Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ask a Korean! Wiki: Books about Korean Art?

Dear Korean,

I am a 27 year old student of the arts; and a graphic designer by profession. Recently I started learning Korean, and also about Korean culture. I was wondering if you had some books to suggest or resources for me to look into about Korean art, and art history. I am also very interested in learning traditional calligraphy.

Cassandra H.

The Korean receives a lot of questions asking for book recommendations, and he always has the same problem: The Korean rarely reads any book about Korea in English. For him, it's just not necessary. Hopefully the readers can help here -- do you know any books in English about Korean art or art history?

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Well, what kind(s) of art?

    Young Yang Chung's Silken Threads: A History of Embroidery in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam is biased towards China and Korea despite the subtitle. Lovely plates whether or not one likes the prose style, and she talks a bit about painting on silk alongside stitching, in case you meant "art" in the usual draw/paint sense.

  2. Lots of great books at Seoul Selection. They ship to the U.S. too.

  3. I would recommend going to museums like the Sackler Gallery in the Smithsonion, however expect to be bombarded with Chinese, Japanese, and Indian art with only a small section dedicated to Korea.

  4. Comment via Twitter @SeoulArtFiend:

    For contemporary Korean art, "Korean Eye," (Dae Hyung Lee) or "Your Bright Future" exhibition catalog (MFA Houston).

    For Korean traditional painting, "Traditional Painting: Window on the Korean Mind" is great:

  5. I'm sorry, you'd probably have to go to Korea to get your hands on this one:

    Korean Cultural History / seen through Pictures and Names
    ISBN: 89-952993-4-7-04900

    You can find the english-language two-volume set in most large bookstores in Seoul. It is a comprehensive pictoral encyclopedia of pre-colonial Korean Art, Military tech, architecture, handicrafts, scientific and musical instruments, costumes, decorative designs, historical sites etc.

    Absolutely priceless resource (well, actually about $50.00 for both volumes)

  6. Two afterthoughts. Some museum exhibitions publish books; those may be hard to track down but usually aren't very expensive. I saw one such (book, not exhibit) at the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, Germany; it had text in German and English, IIRC.

    There's also a few books in English about bojagi. I saw the "Bojagi and Beyond" exhibition at San Francisco's Museum of Craft and Folk Art. Chunghie Lee, the curator, has a self-published book (though she is a scholar) by the same title, which I picked up; another book on bojagi was next to it in the museum's bookshop, and that one had good plates of bojagi on exhibit. I bet you could find the title by e-mail the MOCFA shop (store at, it says).

  7. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has put out a weighty tome titled 'Arts of Korea' (ISBN: 0870998501) which is a great introduction to the history of the indigenous arts of Korea, from pre-Three Kingdoms to late Joseon (Chosun). There is also a wonderfully illustrated catalogue of a traveling exhibition called 'Auspicious Spirits' (ISBN: 088397049X) on Korean folk arts.

  8. For premodern art, there's a series called the Handbooks of Korea Art. There's two on pottery, one on Buddhist sculpture and one on minhwa folk painting. They're both quite detailed and handy!
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art's website also has a lot of integrated pictures and historical context information on Korean Art.


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