[KS] Percival Lowell

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreanstudies.com
Sun Apr 19 03:35:17 EDT 2015

Just a response to two of Professor Pai's suggestions:

> 1. Korean ethnographic items as well as crafts sent to world fairs in 
> the late nineteenth -early 20 century, unlike Japonisme or 
> Chinoiserie ( which had much earlier success for reasons we cannot 
> get into here) never received the kinds of reviews,  or sold well or 
> brought in visitors to their pavilions. That is why there was no boom 
> in Korean arts or crafts collecting in the West.

Chinoiserie & Japonisme were present in Europe (and later in the United 
States) before there was any sort of trade fair or global colonial 
show, etc. -- long before that. There is no such relation as stated. 
Those great shows had no serious influence. It's the other way 
around: because of the existing Chinoiserie since Rococo times (and 
later Japonisme) there was an interest in Chinese and Japanese arts and 
crafts in the late 19th century and around the turn of the century. And 
that interest was by no means limited to China and Japan, of course -- 
it already started with the 'age of discovery' and early colonialist 
In the late 19th century the modernists discovered "the primitives" 
and exotic motifs for themselves -- mostly as a reaction against the 
machine age modernizations and industrialization, which were then in 
full swing in Britain, France, and Germany. And Japanese prints were 
then being taken on just like motifs of cannibals in New Guinea, 
Polynesian sculptures, or topless women on Bali or Tahiti, as a way to 
"return" to the pure forms, the true expressions and non-intellectual 
forms that were said to have been lost in the over-civilized societies 
of Europe with their stilted art styles (reacting also to the crisis 
caused by naturalism and the prevalent 'history painting' styles--which 
had lost all the playfulness of Renaissance and Barock). Europe was 
seen as a soulless, dead end culture, and the art works by or motifs of 
"the primitives" and the exotic cultures were seen as expressions 
directly mirroring the soul of the people, etc. All that has very 
little to do with any appreciation for the "arts" or "crafts" of these 
peoples as such. That would be a major misunderstanding! The "value" 
that came in later was the collector's value in monetary terms! But 
see, that is just the very same as Yanagi Muneyoshi's "appreciation" 
of Korean crafts while simultaneously stating that the makers of those 
craft items are too naive to understand what they are doing. The 
modernists and collectors in Europe did the exact same thing -- or, 
again -- THE OTHER WAY AROUND, Yanagi Muneyoshi (and others) copied 
that approach from William Morris and his folk craft movement and then 
applied it to HIS exotic people, the Koreans (and the Taiwanese). But 
the way you reason sounds as if the Europeans and Americans would have 
appreciated the crafts from some peoples the same way those producing 
peoples appreciated them. That was never the case -- in spite of all 
the colorfully camouflaging Asian Artsy Museums' and collectors' 
catalog essays. And by today, of course, the interest and the ways to 
look at these items has changed considerably. ... Korea, in general, 
was in Europe seen as a barbaric country, a country TO BE CIVILIZED. 
That was the case until it got forcefully occupied and "colonized" by 
the Japanese. In fact, ALL non-Western and not-yet-colonized countries 
still left 'untouched' by 1900 were seen as utterly barbaric and 
considered dangerous places. Japan only had the advantage to have 
"opened" earlier, as we all know -- so it got some sort of 
half-civilized status -- and Griffis, whom we discussed here, wrote a 
piece arguing that the Japanese are in fact "Aryans" (as he had 
problems finding a place for Japanese culture in his white-Christian 
world view). In any case, whatever was taken on from Asia as cultural 
items around the turn of the century had no relation to whatever items
Asian countries sent to Europe or the US for these colonial and trade 
shows. The rules of the game were quite different ones. Whatever Korea 
did or missed to do in that area had zero influence outside of Korea.

> 3. In the colonial era, Japanese mingei collectors ( Asakawa 
> brothers, Yanagi, etc. ) were obsessed with antiquities, pottery and 
> ceramics and in some cases lacquerware and furniture items but hats 
> had no resale value - which prompted looting of tombs as well as gave 
> rise to the auction market. 

Yes (to the first part)!!!! 
But "resale value"? -- most of the other items Yanagi collected had 
hardly any resale value AT THE TIME either -- not even in the 1960s and 
1970s. One should not mix up today's art market with the market during 
colonial times. Yes, antiques always had a high value, but furniture, 
for example? Who even wanted Korean furniture in 1960 or 1970?
I am not sure, but could it not be that the answer is much simpler: 
Korean hats were KOREAN hats, while ceramics, etc., were appreciated 
as some sort of "conserved" antiquarian crafts from China -- or, 
alternatively (considering what I said above) as a fresh new style by 
some happy, non-intellectual, natives (so Japanese collectors could 
appreciate them the same way our European modernists would appreciate 
Polynesian sculptures with their tremendous genitals, breasts, and 
other other back-to-nature qualities). Korean hats, on the other hand 
-- can you think of a better symbol for the Chosŏn aristocratic 
of an independent political system and culture? That's nothing to do 
with resale value, I think, but with working against the aim of 
Japanese colonialism then, as the symbolic value attached to Korean
hats was very high, an one-to-one mirror of the order that the
Japanese had destroyed. One of the two GRADUATION works from 1915, at 
his school in Tokyo, by the very first Western-style (= oil painting) 
Korean painter Ko Hŭi-dong -- so that is the first "modern" painter -- 
was what? Yes, two self-portraits, one of them showing him with a 
court officer's hat. (Joan Kee just published a nice piece on that.)

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So, THIS is how the first modern Korean painter trained in European oil 
painting techniques saw himself (with a Japanese-style mustache) and in 
all-Korean garb -- as a Korean court official -- and that in 1915. It's 
all about symbolism, not resale values.


Frank Hoffmann

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