[KS] Percival Lowell

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreanstudies.com
Tue Apr 21 21:04:35 EDT 2015

Maya Stiller wrote:

> In the late Chosŏn period, lettered people were avid collectors of
> Chinese luxury items (...)

Yes, and yes ... in past few years there has been some research and 
some publications on COLLECTING in Korea, very late, but good, very 
good to see this. 
My question to Maya and others, with the publications you have seen, 
has there been made a clear connection to the "opening" of Korea since 
1876? (Obviously this is a very essential question, so we can 
understand if this relates to the modernization and westernization 
process and how.) Sure did scholars in earlier centuries also "collect" 
items from China -- and we do sometimes have the exact lists of what 
exactly they received. Much of that shows some parallels to beginning 
of Renaissance Italian "collecting: and 'Wunderkammer' museums of the 
medici etc., in that it was not just "art objects" as we define them 
today but "curiosities" and books, etc. So, apart from the fact that a 
DEALERS and MARKETS evolved in that opening period, the beginning of 
capitalist society, what other changes were happening (if you had to 
nail that down in a sentence)? 

Maya wrote:
> As for "kura", the Korean elite was perhaps not interested in the
> long-term preservation of their collections, and we therefore don't
> find a "kura" culture in Korea. However, late Chosŏn ch'aekkŏri
> culture clearly evidences the urge to display one's collection, and
> illustrates the prestige associated with owning luxurious foreign
> items.

In that sense there was (the elite displaying valuable scripts, 
paintings, etc.) -- as far as I can see, but I might be wrong -- no 
basic change to earlier periods of the Chosŏn period. I do not mean to 
repeat what all know, but just to make my point: in medieval Europe the 
culture of display had been essentially different from East Asia in 
that 'nice and interesting stuff' got displayed in glass curios or hung 
on the wall. And since the Renaissance this also started to be common 
for upper class and later middle class citizens (the bourgeoisie), not 
just the church, royalty and aristocracy. But in East Asia, that 'nice 
and interesting stuff' was taken out at special occasions, meetings 
scholarly (male, of course) friends, festivities, ritual celebrations, 
etc. It was not around and hung at the walls -- at least not until the 
late Chosŏn period. .... And here is where I am lost as for the 
possible differences with Japan (where this area is very well 
researched) and Korea. Trade and art markets appeared in Japan much 
earlier than in Korea. But many of the details (for Korea) are still 
cloudy in my own knowledge -- and the sort of articles and research 
Maya just mentioned have only started to appear recently. But these are 
VERY essential parts in the puzzle when we try to understand the 
creation of the concept of "art" in the modernizing Korea (late 
Chosŏn), and it, the market and modes of display and trade relates 
really to the aesthetics also!!! Till now, the usual works published in 
Korea and elsewhere thus discuss "modern" works of art (from the very 
late Chosŏn period or the colonial period) AS IF these were produced in 
an environment similar to that of Europe, the U.S., or Japan. That, 
though, completely disregards the just mentioned modes of trade, 
collecting, and display at the particular time these were produced. 
That again makes both an analysis of the aesthetics of these works 
(which is hardly ever discussed in detail) just as invalid and crooked 
and logically inconsistent as an analysis of the sociopolitical 
implications. THAT has been one of the major problems with the 
"research" on early modern Korean art. If AT LEAST the writers would 
have pointed out the problem (of a lack of information in that area), 
but that has generally not happened, and Korean art works were 
described as if they had been produced in Paris. So, in short (imagined 
smiley here!), we really need to understand far more about e.g. those 
65 + 20 Korean hat styles and details about collecting around 1900 (and 
before) to then come up with a useful analysis of say 1910s paintings, 
and where it goes from there.

As for the 'kura' question: 
  >> the Korean elite was perhaps not interested in the long-term 
preservation of their collections <<
Well, yes, well, no. That might not be the question or answer that 
HELPS understanding the situation. Jonathan Best, I think, already put 
his thumb right on it: the question is *why* they were not interested. 
I might have used this story before (sorry, but it helps the argument): 
many years ago, first time in my life seeing the traditional wooden 
houses in Cambridge, East Coast USA, where it gets really cold in the 
winter, with lots of snow, I could not comprehend why they would not 
use brick stone houses, or whatever means to isolate the houses, such 
as double-glass windows. Where they waiting since the 17th century for 
a climate change? Never answered that for myself, until my wife said 
many tears later: "an issue of setting priorities" - and that was 
certainly it, yes! Americans do not life the entire life in one place, 
Europeans usually do (or did, until recently). OTHER things are higher 
up in the things-to-do list, higher than sealed windows in a house one 
may move out of in a year or two. Applied to the 'kura' question the 
answer might be found by looking what the priorities were, for all 
social classes, at a given time.


Frank Hoffmann

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