You must have been inspired by Kyung Woo Yeon from the “More Than Friends” drama and her enthusiasm for calligraphy, and got curious about Korean calligraphy. If that’s the case and you even started learning calligraphy then you are reading the right blog post!
Before jumping directly into Korean calligraphy, let us first learn about Korean art.
The Three True Arts Of Literati
Calligraphy, poetry, and painting are the three true arts of literati. In the past, people used pictures, lines, words, and colors to express their inner thoughts and emotions. However, both calligraphy and painting share the same technique of formation.
Korean Calligraphy/Hangeul Calligraphy
Korean Calligraphy (서예 seoye) means the art of writing. Hangeul (한글) calligraphy is a cherished Korean art form, derived from Chinese character calligraphy. It is the oldest and most beautiful form of writing that has gained popularity over time.
It expresses the emotions of the artist, such as their strength, perpetuity, and purity of the ancient tradition. Calligraphy is also playing a part in Korean visual art reflecting the ancient Koreans’ tradition of artistic writing in Hanja (한자) or Hangeul (한글).
The carefully aligned characters, each of which is beautifully balanced, as well as the aesthetics of in-between spaces, which offer a pause to the language’s story, are what make Korean calligraphy lovely.
In modern times, many calligraphy enthusiasts respect this visual art form of calligraphy style and practice it with full attention. They are eager to learn about this magnificent piece of art. Hangul calligraphy is more attractive compared to Chinese calligraphy styles.
At first, Chinese characters were used in calligraphy, but in modern Korean calligraphy, Hangul letters are more popular. More than anything, Korean calligraphers like Kim Chong Hui have provided insight into Korean culture.
Let’s learn more about the history of Korean calligraphy.
Western And Eastern Calligraphy
Western calligraphy focuses more on the formation of beautiful letters on paper. However, in Asian cultures, the work of calligraphy reveals the heart and personality of the artist, as when an artist gives someone a piece of their artwork created by himself, this act shows that the artist deeply regards this person and is fond of that person.
So, we can say that all Asian calligraphic works prominently display the characteristics of the artists who made them. And mastering this exquisite art form will take a year of dedicated training.
Calligraphic practice is more than just a technical exercise in writing; it’s also a mental workout by letting go of all materialistic concerns, as in Buddhist philosophy. In a similar way to Buddhism, the calligraphy artists fill the blank piece of paper with contrasting colors to spell out their wants, avarice, or material issues that live deep within their hearts.
Given Korea’s lengthy history of Chinese influence and Buddhism’s ascension as a religion, it’s only natural that Buddhist traditions should be extensively reflected in Korean art and poetry. Thus, reading between the dots and lines, beyond the delicate and elegant aesthetic beauty of each character’s representation, and delving deep to discover the hidden story that the calligrapher is telling or, to be more accurate, “showing”, is perhaps the most effective way of interpreting Korean calligraphy.
Now let us delve into our topic.
A Brief History Of Korean Calligraphy
If you want to know about the history then below is a brief Korean calligraphy but we would suggest you to also check out the history of hangeul to learn more.
Korean Calligraphy In The Three Kingdoms
From this period (57 BC–668 AC), only a few inscribed stone monuments remained. Koreans in ancient times were anxious to develop the various Chinese styles of calligraphy and attain Chinese culture.
Unified Silla (668–935) And Chinese Character Calligraphy
Impressed by the Chinese Tang Culture, Unified Silla gave birth to well-known calligrapher masters in the Korean Peninsula. During the Unified Silla period, Choe Chi-won and Kim Saing calligraphers’ writing styles were emulated by those of Chinese calligraphers Ouyang Xun and Yu Shinan.
- Kim Saing was known as the first Korean calligrapher in the 8th century. His work could be compared to that of Wang Xizhi, the Chinese calligraphy master.
- Choe Chi-won, a poet from Silla, became well-known in his birth country as well as throughout the Tang Dynasty in the 9th century due to his calligraphy.
The Koreyo (고레) Dynasty Period (918–1392)
The squarish, angular style of calligraphy by Yu Shinan, Ouyang Xun, and Yan Zhenqing, rooted in the dynasty of the Silla period, lasted till 1350 before the emergence of Zhao Mengfu as a Chinese scribe. It is a round, fluent style of calligraphy from the Yuan Dynasty, which was then adopted and became the trend of that time. The Mengfu Zhao style is still a trend in Korean calligraphy.
Joseon (조선) Dynasty (1392–1910)
Zhao style calligraphy persisted until the 14th century, then calligraphy got clumsier, and a vulgar style began in Joseon in the early 16th century. As evidenced in Chinese calligraphy, every individual started with their own style of calligraphy in the 19th century due to the cultural contact between Korea and the Qing Dynasty of China.
Kim Chong Hui (1786-1856), commonly known as Ch’u-sa (추사) or Wan-dang (완당), was a talented Korean calligrapher during the Joseon dynasty. He was born in the Korean city of Kyongho-RI (경호리), which is now South Korea, and died in the North Korean city of Pukchong (북총).
From the classic li shu (리 슈) calligraphy of Han China, he devised a distinctive style of forceful strokes, the Ch’usa style, which has remained one of the principal calligraphic styles in Korea. His technique has a similar harmony of characters, but the lines are wavier and the end of the stroke is more prominent. The thickness is likewise erratic. All of this helps to give the characters a more lively and light appearance.
Korean Calligraphy In Japanese Rule (1910–1945)
Until the invasion of Japan, scholars adopted Chinese letters as Korean calligraphy. Around 1920, the influence of Japanese calligraphy (Hanja, Korean: 한자) became noticeable. Government directives to replace all written words and Chinese characters with the native alphabet, i.e., the Korean alphabet (Hangul), dramatically influenced calligraphy in the Korean Peninsula following World War II.
So we can say that the contemporary calligraphy of Korea has taken on new directions and is developing its own style. Hanja calligraphy, on the other hand, is still famous in this century.
Types Of Korean Calligraphy
Korean Hanja calligraphy is divided into five categories.
- Seal scripts
- Cursive script
- Block script
- Semi-cursive script
- Official script
Four Major Tools Used In Korean Calligraphy
If you want to create anything, you need tools. Similarly, in Korean calligraphy, some basic tools are required, such as paper, brush, ink stick, and ink stone. In the Korean language, they are called Munbangsawoo (문방사우), which means “four friends.”
It should be straight with a sharp pointed tip. Each strand of the same length is made from animal hairs.
In Korean calligraphy, Korean mulberry paper was used as the Korean traditional Hanji (한지) as it was the only suitable paper to absorb ink and reflect the colors.
It is formed by the combination of soot (Korean: geueul-eum, 그을음) from burning the wood with the help of an adhesive. The main features of a good ink stick are that it should be strong and long-lasting.
It is made from firm stone, like clay, bronze, iron, and porcelain.
Calligraphy in Korean also needs other items. Below are some tools.
- A container of water
- Flat and long papers weigh
- A container to hold brushes (boot tong, Korean; 부츠 집게)
- Bowl wash the brushes
Modern Korean Calligraphy i.e 서예 (Seoye)
Chinese calligraphy began several thousand years ago. Hangeul (한글) calligraphy, on the other hand, is only a half millennium old. Its simple but strong beauty compliments its young age. Many calligraphy enthusiasts adore Korean calligraphy for its simple and restrained beauty, as well as its unexpected strength, despite its comparatively brief history.
Hangeul (한글) calligraphy is continually evolving, with new typefaces and writing styles being created on a regular basis.
Ahn Sangsoo, a famous calligraphist, produced gorgeous fonts using Hangeul (한글) that includes artwork within the characters. He began to shape the calligraphy in such a way that it would appeal to younger Koreans who might not be interested in traditional Seoye (Korean calligraphy).
Some believe that most Seoye traditions are dwindling. Certain modern calligraphers, such as Ahn, continue to thrive in order to extend the life of the dwindling craft. People will realize the worth of Seoye, whether modern or traditional, once they understand the beauty, effort, heart, touch, and history of the calligrapher that lingers within each stroke and each character. The cultural legacy will be preserved.
Many institutions in Korea offer to learn calligraphy classes for tourists interested in learning the art. Each year, a number of calligraphy competitions, particularly for immigrants, are held.
The Top Modern Korean Calligraphers
Below are the top five most famous Korean calligraphists.
- Seokjeon Hwang Ok (황옥석전)
- Pyeongbo Seo Hee Hwan (평보 서희환)
- Youngun Kim Young Jin (김영운 영진)
- Namjeong Choi Cheong Gyun (남정 최청균)
- Gangam Song Seong Yong (강남 송성용)
These Korean calligraphers have done calligraphy enough to take a place in the heart. Calligraphy expresses emotions and connects souls as Kaoru Akagawa once said and I quote:
“Calligraphy is a type of art in which ink and a brush are used to convey the souls of words on paper.”
This was the overall introduction to Korean calligraphy. You must have gotten a lot to learn from this blog post. If you took interest in the Calligraphy in Korea, then you must also be interested in the history of Korean art and The history of Korea.