[KS] Choson Dynasty Sexuality

J.Scott Burgeson jsburgeson at yahoo.com
Tue Mar 4 00:45:55 EST 2008

--- Frank Hoffmann <hoffmann at koreaweb.ws> wrote:

> In response to Scott Burgeson:
> I was *only* referring to the kind of 
> pornographic images Scott described in the other 
> posting, 

Frank's points are well-taken and just to clarify, I
mentioned a handjob in one Hyewon painting (not the
other kind of "job" Frank indicated I indicated) and
my description of Korean spring pictures as being more
naturalistic was mainly to contrast with Japanese
spring pictures which are often extremely exaggerated,
wild and even grotesque.

I still remain puzzled, however, on Frank's insistance
on disparaging Hyewon's spring pictures as
"pornographic" and of less value than his other
so-called genre works. Is the (Western) term
"pornographic" commonly used in Korean-language
scholarship in reference to these works? In any case,
some of Hyewon's erotic spring pictures are just as
accomplished as, for example, the picture of the women
bathing that Mark Peterson first posted to the List.
And the theme of voyeurism, for example, suggested in
that work is also recurrent in several of Hyewon's
other more obviously erotic works (for example, a
young girl secretly watching another couple engaged in
coitus), yet are executed tastefully and not at all
"pornographically" in my opinion. They are not
"arousing" but do show a narrative that illuminates
the universal human interest in sexuality (a young
girl's budding interest in sex, for instance, in the
case of the work just cited).

I'm curious how one determines which works are
"merely" pornographic and which works are not and
hence of greater artistic value. Is the presence of
genitalia the deciding factor? The work of the young
woman giving the older man a handjob shows the male
organ but I personally do not find it at all
titilating, for instance.

There seem to be some implicit high vs. low art
assumptions at work here which I also observe in the
greater Korean cultural and intellectual landscape.
Who decides what is high art and what is low art? At
least the criteria need to be made explicit. Is it
really so simple that a work that is merely
"pornographic" is just a "copy" while
"non-pornographic" works aren't? The same
high-brow/low-brow distinction can be seen in how many
of the so-called "ero" movies of the 1980s, for
example, are viewed here in Korea: For some, they are
pooh-poohed as low-brow and vulgar, for others, some
are classic artistic representations of a distinct
Korean folk sex culture.

Again, who gets to decide what has value and what
doesn't, and what are the criteria invoked, either
implicitly or explicitly, to make such judgements?  

--Scott Bug

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