Crafts of Korea(3) Formative arts
Korean Traditional Formative Arts & Crafts
[pix_dropcap]In[/pix_dropcap] Korean formative art, there is much focus on the harmony with nature. It therefore has a modest, elegant and fluid sense of style. Korean traditional formative art has strived to express the fundamental form, texture, and color. Therefore most masters have focused on exhibiting genuine beauty that lies on the form itself.
Korean porcelain masters did not attempt to elevate their work by outer decorations or fancy patterns. Rather they put extreme focus on delicate difference in the conditions of when the porcelain is put into the kiln. With different conditions came different colors, sparkles and texture. The spirit was the same with Korean woodwork masters. Instead of nailing the wood together, they strived to find a way to put pieces together that would sustain the strength of nature itself.
China was the first of East Asia to develop pottery. It influenced surrounding countries starting with Korea, Japan, Vietnam and even parts of Middle East Asia and Europe. Although Korea had certain influence from China, the exquisite beauty in Korean porcelain had been evidently praised as the world’s best by many including China. Korean porcelain distinguishes itself from the large-sized and ornate Chinese porcelain and the decorative Japanese: Goryeo Celadon with its intricate expression of celadon glaze and inlaid art and Joseon white porcelain with its concise and elegant beauty.
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The unique texture of wood enables it to express warmth that can be difficult to emulate with materials such as metal or stone. In Korean history, much crafts such as furniture, tableware and tools were made by wood so it is no coincidence that woodcraft developed in the early periods and there were explicit and detailed specialized categories of woodcraft masters.
Korean traditional woodcraft is categorized into thirteen different specialties. It is known to be as many as 1556 different kinds of wood in Korea, and only 109 kinds are suitable for Korean traditional woodcraft. The technical uniqueness of Korean woodcraft comes from the fact that in most cases it does not use nails. To make decorative woodcraft connecting only with joints without nails requires extreme precision. There are traditional woodwork that is extremely difficult to emulate even with modern technology and tools.
The wood joint technique is passed down to woodcraft masters but still need significant amount of experience that not many are known to fully adopt it. There are 60 or so ways to wood joints and the advantage is that it is not only easy on the eye but is also three times stronger than using nails. Therefore the woodwork can withstand stronger external force for longer time.
Metal tableware is commonly used in Korea. The difference is evident just by looking at the utensils. Koreans have made metal spoons and chopsticks whereas Chinese made porcelain, and Japanese made wood. Some could say reason for Koreans using metal utensils is because it is sanitary, but it is considered a natural result of the flow of Korean traditional culture.
From the King’s decorative ornaments to religious items and household items, metal was a popular and relatively convenient material for Korean people. This in turn proves that there were enough specialized people with skills to produce huge amount in demand. According to Chinese historic records, Korea had much high quality metal output and therefore exported to surrounding countries. It also states that metal was used as barter.
Despite metal craft being closely related to Korean people, metal craft was limited as the culture of the royals until Shilla Dynasty. Metal craft was mainly used to make extravagant and decorative King’s ornaments. Later when Buddhism was accepted during Shilla Dynasty and flourished during Goryeo Dynasty, the use of metal craft expanded to statue of Buddha, incense burner, other religious items and household items. In Joseon Dynasty, influenced by the neo-Confucianism, simple and practical metal craft were emphasized.
However unfortunately, during 1940s, a huge amount of metal crafts were forced to be melted down and used as bullets during Japan’s Pacific war. The unfortunate incident has cast a big hole in the history of Korean metal craft. Later in 1968, after the Korean war, metal craft masters started to be supported by cultural heritage protection act.
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