A Movement toward Eastern Ethnocentric Art Education: The Value of Korean Art and Cultural Heritage

Article excerpt

In the interest of cultural diversity, Chalmers (1992) says that we have not done nearly enough to promote art and art education as a unifying element in a world fraught with division and yet which has a rich cultural diversity. Multicultural art learning can go beyond techniques, tools, and materials by positioning art as a powerful force in shaping peoples' visions of the world. Studio activities can be one way for students to express and show that vision. Durant (1996) mentions that learning to understand the art of various cultures and times, including our own, is not merely about facts and information, even though they are a necessary and even an essential part of inquiry. Garber (1995) believes that pluralistic, cross-cultural dialogue and understanding should be an important part of the contemporary art education agenda. Korean learning relies on art's ability and power to awaken and develop new levels of awareness and consciousness in all of us. Ultimately, learning is dependent on connections, relationships, and meanings.

Today's art education in East Asia focuses on Western ethnocentric or European ethnocentric art education. These practices reflect the tremendous effect American and European culture has had upon the art education of East Asia, including Korea. Globalization and the information-oriented society in which we live have changed the world. Like many Korean art educators, we realize that we are attached too much to the Western or European ethnocentric method of art education and thus ignore techniques of East Asian art education. This attachment results in an unbalanced view that is presented to students' about their own values and identities.

Many articles on multicultural art education published in the 1990s have had an enormous influence on the diversity of art language, content, medium, design elements and principles, cultural context, and pedagogy for East Asian art education including Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. This article addresses (1) how the content of traditional Korean art reflects on art curricula from the view of a multicultural approach and, (2) how traditional Korean aesthetics can influence students' beliefs and identities.

The Inquiry and Inheritance of the Traditional Korean Philosophical Approach

The excellence of traditional Korean artworks has been created primarily out of its unique philosophy. In the Korean perspective, creating art allows the unification of man and nature, and the unification of subjectivity and objectivity, which in turn will lead to a diversity of individual expressions. Traditional Korean artworks often show spontaneity, serenity, and tranquility of expressions. These expressions often spring from an artist's selfless mind and self-awakening, a state of mind with no external influences and fully focused on the self.

Many artists pursue personal freedom through artistic activities. Spontaneous expression comes from the harmony of form, color, composition and space in a natural way. In general, all of these are the characteristics of traditional art in Korea. Many paintings depict trees, mountains and water. Nature and the universe are ever changing and Korean art tries to represent this. As does nature, paintings depict trees, mountains, and water to symbolize a harmonious life. To attain nature's essence and attune to the neutrality existing in nature, the artist needs to get rid of all thoughts from his or her mind. An artist must banish all thoughts and devote oneself to calmness and tranquility. In this way the artist can return to his or her own ultimate inner being. To be returned to one's own nature means to respond to one's true nature constantly. At this stage, the artist could reach the pure essence of his or her origin; the artist could experiment and express the essences of his or her nature more spontaneously.

Traditional Korean artists try to depict meaning and symbols through control of their expression. …