Aanchal Tekriwal, Godda, Jharkhand
One of the exciting things about learning a new language is also learning about its culture and history. In Korea exist one of the unique heritage art forms is calligraphy. A cherished Korean art form that imparts the artist’s emotions while illustrating the strength, purity and sempiternity of ancient tradition. Korean calligraphy, also known as Seoye (Korean: 서예; Hanja: 書藝), is the Korean tradition of artistic writing, i.e. Korean calligraphy involves both Hanja (Chinese logograph) and Hangeul (Korean native alphabet). Koreans have used Chinese characters probably since the 2nd or 3rd century CE. Even after the invention of Hangeul in 1447, Chinese was used as the official script until the 19th century. Since the World War 2, calligraphy in both South and North Korea has been thoroughly persuaded by governmental decisions to replace all Chinese characters with words written in the native alphabet.
As a result, modern Korean calligraphy has come into shape along new lines. There are mainly five types of the script within Korean Calligraphy, each of which marks the style of writing. Choseo (초서) is a cursive script, Haeseo (해서) means a block script, Haengseo (행서) is a semi-cursive script, Jeonseo (전서) is the seal script and finally there is Yeseo (예서) which is the official script. In Korean, there is something called Munbangsawoo which literally means ‘Four Friends of the Study’, these four items are basic tools used in Korean calligraphy- a brush, paper, ink stick and ink stone. The paper for calligraphy must be traditional hanji (Korean mulberry paper), which is particularly well-suited for absorbing ink and reflecting its colours, while the brush must be straight and have a sharply-pointed tip made of animal hairs of the same length.
The ink stick is made by mixing soot from burned trees and glue. The particles of the good ink are extremely fine and firm. Ink stones are stone mortars carved by master craftsmen. A good ink stone is one which allows fine grinding of ink sticks and shouldn’t dry out too early. What intrigued me with ink sticks and ink stones is that Korean calligraphers are seen stoically grinding black rectangular sticks over wetted stones and magically ink emerges in the process. In inclusion to these four tools, several other items are also important for calligraphy, including the yeonjeok (a container of water used for making ink with ink stick), boot tong (a container for holding brushes), munjin (long and flat paperweights) and lastly pilse (a bowl for washing the brush). All these elements have significant effects on the final texture and flow of the calligraphy.
In Korean calligraphy, posture plays a very important role because writing is not done with the wrist resting on paper and just the hand movement, but actually with the forearm in the air, parallel to the ground and using the shoulder and elbow as well. You need to rest your thumb on one side of the brush while the other four fingers are on another side. Unlike in Western calligraphy, speed is also part of the final look of the artwork. If you linger a lot, the ink will get soaked in the paper and spread. This is usually done at the beginning of the stroke, or at the “joints” of the character. If you pull up the brush too quickly, the black line will not be full and complete but rather have a scratchy appearance. If you think this sounds difficult, it actually is because with Korean calligraphy control and steadiness are practised and gained over time.
One of the most well-celebrated Korean calligraphers is Kim Jeong-hui. He is said to have revolutionized the art form by creating what is called Chusa. It was asymmetrical, filled with powerful strokes that made it stand out from others. There are many places in Korea that offers calligraphy classes for foreigners, including Namsan Hanok Village. Such classes are open to all those who are interested in learning calligraphy. A variety of calligraphy competitions are held every year, especially for foreigners. Recently a new exhibition was held by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) named “The Modern and Contemporary Korean Writing” in Deoksu Palace in central Seoul. This exhibition started to shed light on the development of modern calligraphy and its significance in fine art. This is the first calligraphy exhibition to be held at the national museum and it is a part of MMCA director Youn Bum-mo’s effort to bring neglected art genres to the museum.
Calligraphy artists express well-wishing sentences in their works, and in the process of creating they not only engrave the words in the paper but into their hearts too. Have you ever given Korean calligraphy a go or wish to learn it? Let us know what you think about this form of art and your experiences of trying it in the comments below!