Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.3, 359-365
Published Online August 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojpp) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojpp.2013.33054
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 359
The Aesthetic Turn in Everyday Life in Korea
Kwang Myung Kim
Department of Philosophy, Soongsil University, Seoul, South Korea
Email: kmkim@s su.ac.kr
Received May 30th, 2013; revised June 30th, 2013; accepted July 7th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Kwang Myung Kim. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
We are living in the transitional age from the rational, analytical, and scientific to the cultural, sensitive,
and aesthetic. The aesthetics of everyday life lies at the center of this age. There is no boundary between
art and life in contemporary art. Almost all the contents and objects of everyday life became a work of art
in the condition of searching for the aesthetic. Since aesthetic theory was shifted from the artist-centered
or a work of art-centered to the audience, spectator or beholder-centered, art and everyday life were more
closely related to each other. So aesthetic attention or attitude is not specific to art, but pervasive broadly
in everyday life. We can embrace the aesthetic concerns in everything we make and use every day. In the
long tradition of Korean art, it can be seen that aesthetic consciousness is steeped in day-to-day life as
well as the arts. I want to consider the problems of everydayness, Korean aesthetic consciousness in daily
life, and contemplation in the aesthetic consciousness. Korean art was characterized by its “lack of re-
finement” and “nonchalance”. The characteristics of Korean art as the qualities of “technique without
technique”, “Planning without plan”, “asymmetrical symmetry” have dominated the everyday conscious-
ness of Korean people as well as Korean art. The extension of aesthetic emotion through experimentation
shows us the change of aesthetic consciousness as a new possibility of interpretation. We stand in an ur-
gent situation of the need for a new theory of art. It will be related to the future of aesthetics. For this rea-
son, I think we have to consider the meaning of the aesthetic turn in everyday life.
Keywords: Aesthetics of Everyday Life; Everydayness; Aesthetic Turn; Korean Aesthetic Consciousness;
Why is the aesthetic turn in everyday life problematic? This
century is often referred to as an age of culture and sensitivity.
We are living in the transitional age of the aesthetic from the
last ages of reason, analysis, and science. The aesthetics of
everyday life lies at the center of this age. One of the important
features of contemporary art is that there is no boundary be-
tween art and life. After demolishing the boundary between art
and life, the aesthetics of everyday life have become particu-
larly significant. Almost all of the contents and objects of eve-
ryday life became works of art in the condition of searching for
the aesthetic. Since aesthetic theory was shifted from the art-
ist-centered or a work of art-centered to the audience, spectator
or beholder-centered, art and everyday life were more closely
related to each other. So aesthetic attention or attitude is not
specific to art, but pervasive broadly in everyday life. Not all,
but most things in daily life can be literally works of art.
Therefore, it does not need to distinguish between artistic crea-
tion or production and aesthetic judgment or evaluation.1 We
can embrace the aesthetic concerns in everything we make and
use every day. In terms of the aesthetic experience as well as
the aesthetic object, the aesthetic value that we can find in eve-
ryday life will be the main quest in the aesthetics of everyday
“Our current art- and spectator-centered aesthetics cannot
adequately account for equally important aesthetic experience
of everyday objects and activities, which almost always engage
us bodily.”2 For aesthetics to turn to everyday life, it needs to
break down the boundaries between artist and beholder or
spectator, art and ordinary things. Especially in daily life, the
aesthetic and the practical cannot be neatly separated. On behalf
of an aesthetic interpretation for meaning, everyday experience
can be an object of aesthetic appreciation. The favorite symbols
for beauty convey the transience of existence, such as falling
cherry blossoms, misty mornings, rainy fields, snowy valleys
and windy forests, etc. Fallen leaves in Autumn and other ma-
terials, like withered trees or a decayed old tree, especially sig-
nify the effects of aging accompanied by loneliness and mel-
ancholy. Many of our everyday objects and activities are un-
dergoing change, therefore they can heighten our awareness
and enhance the experience.3 In everyday life, which is domi-
nated by time, we can find exquisite beauty. Transience and
impermanence are apparent and are appreciated in the everyday
life of aesthetic traditions.
“The aestheti cs of everyday life is one of the distinctive con-
tributions of philosophers to cultural studies, offering alter-
native to the emphasis on mass culture in the field. Instead of
2Yuriko Saito, “Everyday Aesthetics”, Philosophy and Literature, Vo. 25,
o. 1, April, 2001, p. 89.
3Yuriko Saito, ibid., p. 91.
1Marcel Duchamp’s readymade <Fountain> (1917), Andy Warhol’s <Brillo
, and John Ca
show us this well.
K. M. KIM
film or television, everyday aesthetics shifts our attention to
practices such as cleaning, homemaking, cooking, and ward-
robe”.4 These everyday things can contribute to works of art as
well as cultural indicators.5 Aesthetic character of everyday life
permeates popular culture. As far as emotions are concerned,
most everyday experiences may have more or less aesthetic
value. Emotions in everyday life are directly expressed without
practical or theoretical filtration. So, the expressions of raw
images tell us original feelings hidden in our mental states.
Aesthetic expression of day-to-day life is contributing to the
enhancement of a better quality of life. It reminds us of the
sensitivity hidden behind the reason, and thus it restores the
wholeness of humanity. Now I want to consider the problems
of everydayness, Korean aesthetic consciousness in daily life,
and the contemplation in the aesthetic consciousness.
Everydayness in Everyday Aesthetics
The reason I deal with the meaning of the everydayness of
life is to lead a good everyday life. Everydayness belongs to the
everyday world. And it belongs to “the aesthetics of everyday
domestic existence”.6 Looking to the dictionary meaning,
everydayness is the quality or state of happening everyday or
frequently. Sometimes it points to the product or result of
things happening everyday or frequently, as well. Everydayness
appears as appropriate for ordinary days, routine occasions or
commonplace things such as housing, modes of dress, eating
and drinking, gardening, packing, weather etc. “Each object (an
armchair just as much as a piece of clothing, a kitchen utensil
as much as a house) was thus linked to some ‘style’ and there-
fore, as a work, contained while masking the larger functions
and structures which were integral parts of its form.”7 The
day-to-day supplies of each are important components that
make up the structure, form, and in the end, style. Individual
style transforms gradually into social style or country style,
world style, and the style of the age. “The concept of every-
dayness does not therefore designate a system, but rather a
denominator common to existing systems including judicial,
contractual, pedagogical, fiscal, and police systems.”8 Every-
dayness does not reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary, but
rather it is the common ground in the ordinary systems. Every-
dayness consists of the important element of everyday artistic
Everydayness or ordinariness in everyday life appears
throughout popular culture. The ideas, perspectives, attitudes of
popular culture permeate the everyday lives of the society. It
shows aesthetic character of everyday life. Certain aspects of an
experience appear as vague. However, if some of everyday
experiences may have both unity and closure in the meaning of
J. Dewey, then it cannot be mere experience, but an aesthetic
experience with an aesthetic value.9 Of course aesthetic ex-
periences are rooted in the pattern of everyday life. “Everyday-
ness changes how we apply conceptions of aesthetic value. The
best version of the aesthetics of everyday life upholds the Kan-
tian distinction between mere agreeableness and genuine beauty,
that is, between idiosyncratic or trivial sensations and judg-
ments with normative force, that is, the sense of universal va-
lidity or sensus communis.”10 Sensus communis (common
sense) is one of the important concepts that dominate the eve-
ryday. It is a keyword of everydayness. It plays a significant
role in Kantian aesthetics.
Aesthetics as a discipline of sensuous cognition is a science
of sensuous representation and it contains unclear, confused
awareness. On the contrary, logic is a science of clear and dis-
tinct representation. According to A. G. Baumgarten, “con-
fused” means very uniquely, that is to say, not the scrambled
sign of any situation, but the closely fused sign. In Kantian
aesthetics, common sense reveals the confusedness of emo-
tional perception or sensitive cognition. It will be able to broa-
den the horizons of cognition in relation to its unique episte-
mological status. Common sense is a ground for the intersub-
jective validity of the judgment of taste.11 Aesthetic judgment is
based on the common understanding of common sense. In other
words, common sense is the sense of community as the basis of
aesthetic judgment. The sense of community that causes us to
have communal me a n i n g is t o share feelings with each other.
The pleasure we get by making a judgment about the sensu-
ous object in general has a universal postulate as a subjective
purposiveness of the representation on the relationship between
two cognitive faculties, namely, reason and understanding. In
particular, the beauty is neither an object of the concept, nor
cognitive judgment. Its deduction is not clarified by objective
reality. It is just subjective and formal. Common sense can
make it possible to bring the communication. If sensation as the
reality of perception is related to the cognition, then we call it
sensory perception.12 When we perceive things through our
sense organs, we can feel pleasure. This pleasure is not attrib-
utable to spontaneity, but to receptivity. Taste as a sort of
common sense can be shared with each other. We accept it as
an idea that is attributed to the common sense.13 This is similar
to the common idea that is shared by a community. Usually a
maxim of the human understanding that we call common sense
helps to explain the principles of the judgment of taste. The non
arbitrary and unprejudiced maxim of thoughts is the maxim of
an active reason. However, aesthetic taste is to be called com-
mon sense rather than to be referred to as a sound understand-
ing. Though common sense is the subjective judgment of taste,
despite the subjective condition, it is universally communica-
Aesthetic life in everyday is marked by pervasiveness and
routine to everybody. Aesthetic character is permeated into
everyday life. Like common sense, when joining in a common
experience we can share an aesthetic sense with others in eve-
ryday life. Many of our daily experiences in the pleasure of
beauty give us reflective pleasure sharable with each other.
“Our everyday experiences are entrenched in practical, func-
tional, everyday activities and concerns. Everyday objects and
activities are created, used, or performed primarily for non
aesthetic purposes.”14 There is simply more of everyday aes-
4Kevin Melchionne, “Aesthetic Experience in Everyday Life: A Re
Dowling”, British Journal of Aesthetic s, Vol. 51, No. 4, Oct. 2011, p. 437.
5Arthur C. Danto, what art is, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013, p.
6Arthur C. Danto, ibid.
7Henri Lefebvre, “The Everyday and Everydayness”, trans. Christine Le-
vich, Yale French Studies, No. 73, 1987, p. 8.
8Henri Lefebvre, ibid., p. 9
9J. Dewey, Art as Experience, New York: Perige e, 1934, pp. 35 & 37.
10Kevin Melchionne, ibid., p. 438.
11John H. Zammito, The Genesis of KANT’s Critique of Judgment, The
University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 2.
Taste is distinct from appetite and matters o n l y in society (cf., p. 31).
12I. Kant, Kritik der Urteilkraft, Hamburg:Fel ix Meiner, 1974, § 39, 153.
13I.Kant, ibid., § 40, 157.
14Christopher Dowling, “The Aesthetics of Daily Life”, British Journal o
esthetics, Vol. 50, No. 3, July 2010, p. 232.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
K. M. KIM
thetic life than there is of museum visits or nights at the theatre.
“Everydayness substantially changes how we value our experi-
ences. It changes how we observe and describe. To recognize
aesthetic value in everyday life, one has to look at more than
just the tiniest slivers of experience”.15 So we come to interpret
the meaning of skill or technique, function and excellence in
everyday life. These three concepts distinguish and identify the
limits between everyday life and art.
In making an everyday living it has long been noticed that
fashions in dress, and fashion in decoration, style in architect-
ture have a similar tendency to imitate and promote each other.
These tendencies reflect the changing ways in which the human
being and the human body are perceived.16 As the aesthetic
denotes the sensuous aspect of our appreciation of beauty, bod-
ily perception is contained in the aesthetic consciousness. I see
body as a subject of perception and communication. If we de-
fine the aesthetics as a cognitive science of world by bodily
perception, it is loyal to the original definition of discipline,
“aesthetics”. Body, the physical structure, including the bones,
flesh, and organs, of a person or an animal is the primary exit
for perceiving world.17 We feel or experience the grace through
a graceful (slender) figure as an important aspect of body eve-
ryday. In figure, gesture and gesticulation we can read the fu-
sion of inner and outer world. And is the same case in action
Through the activities of the emotional experience in the
field of human life we can recognize and meet the world. Espe-
cially in the area of culture and art, we can feel it with the skin.
Everyday aesthetics concerns itself with the mental states,
worldviews and artifacts that are immersed in daily life. It takes
an aesthetic character from the stream of cultural, environ-
mental elements. “A faculty that is directed towards natural
beauty would have a real chance of being both a human uni-
versal, and founded in some universal claim, in other words, a
claim of reason.”18 Strictly speaking, aesthetic reasoning is an
analogy of reason rather than a claim of reason. It is not an
interest in the way things present themselves, but a disinterested
interest in appearances. This disinterestedness will be consid-
ered in relation to contemplation. Disinterestedness revolves to
the interest itself beyond the interest. Interest itself meets with
the state of contemplation.
“An experience can have meaning for us in one of two ways:
the way of perception and the way of imagination. The way of
perception involves the use of our sensory capacities to gain
information about the world, and this information comes to us
in two forms: as part of the way things appear to us, and as an
inference from the way things appear.”19 Though perception is
made on the basis of reality, the imagination, beyond the con-
straints of time and space, extends our reality in everyday life.
“The way of imagination is illustrated. My visual experience
contains a kind of narrative. This narrative is presented through
the appearance of the picture.”20 Narrative in the everyday pre-
sents connection of events and describes a sequence of events
in various categories like fiction and non-fiction including all
creative products of human beings. Aesthetic everyday stands
on the basis of day-to-day experience, but sometimes “beyond”
the day-to-day. Under the name of “beyond” it can awake the
extraordinary in the ordinary life.21 We can approach and per-
ceive our daily lives and imagine the extraordinary in the ordi-
nary. The ordinary can be transformed and transfigured into the
extraordinary. We encounter the extraordinary in daily life.22
Linkage that connects the two sides is the aesthetic conscious-
Korean Aesthetic Consciousness and Everyday
I would like to consider aesthetic emotion and aesthetic ex-
pression in everyday life of Korean people. It is naturally re-
lated to the Korean cultural tradition. Though influenced by
other Asian cultures, its roots lie deep in the creative Korean
psyche. Especially despite the impact of Chinese culture, how-
ever, Korean art has always managed to maintain a uniquely
Korean quality, namely a tranquil and relaxed attitude, quite
distinct from the elaborate and massive forms of China or the
highly delicate style of Japanese art.23 The delicate styling and
fine craftsmanship of celadon pottery illustrates the refinement
of the culture well. We can feel stylish aesthetics of Korean
food, clothing, and shelter life, etc. Sympathetic voice, a tone of
color, fragrance, stylish story, and sense of beauty that can be
found in everyday life show us the aesthetic sense of the Ko-
rean people. Aesthetic emotion can be felt in the extremely
ordinary. Tiled roofs of a Korean-style house, splashed lift the
eaves line, a wooden crosspiece of grid in the traditional house,
curved cabrioles used in a small dining table with cabrioles are
indigenous to the Korean life style. Aesthetic taste is shown in
food, such as garnish put on a feast noodles or rice cake soup,
sliced yellow decorative seasonings, shredded red pepper with
white noodles, or rice cake on top of soup, the visual stimuli are
a great way to stimulate the palate. Adorning the sincerity of
food, as well as the pleasant taste improves dignity. And taste is
shown in traditional Korean costume or clothes. We can feel an
aesthetic sense in refinement from a narrow path or a trail.
These would bring the room to life and cause us to contemplate
In a Korean literary man’s life, we find not separate, but in
one form of poetry, calligraphy, painting and carving. For a
man of letters, refined tastes and poetic elegance grew out of
time and space to spare. A wind-bell is hanging from the eaves
in a Buddhist temple, its sound immerses us in the natural
world. We can experience eternity in the moment. It says that
everyday will lead to an eternity. Transience and permanence
are not two, but one. Everyday aesthetics is immersed in the
natural world as an aesthetic contemplation. In Korea as well as
in the world, one of the main characteristics of contemporary
arts is diversity. Contemporary arts display diverse and multi-
faceted views. In contemporary art, individual sensibilities and
idiosyncrasies manifest themselves without restriction, and
15Kevin Melchionne, ibid., p. 440.
16Roger Scruton, “In Search of the Aesthetic”, British Journal of Aesthetics,
Vol. 47, No. 3, Jan. 2007, p. 244.
17Recently we have seen a considerable resurgence in the popularity o
tattooing and piercing, a development that some have dismissed as a fash-
ionable trend, others have argued that the relative permanence of such
forms of body modification militates against their full absorption into the
18Roger Scruton, ibid., pp. 23 8-239.
19Roger Scruton, ibid., p. 246.
20Roger Scruton, ibid., p. 247.
21cf. Eric Booth, The Everyday Work of Art: Awakening the Extraordinary
in your Daily Life, Lincoln, N E: iUnivers e, 2001.
22Thomas Leddy stresses aesthetic Aura in everyday experiences. cf. The
xtraordinary in the Ordinar
: The Aesthetics of Everyday, Broadview
23Kwang Myung Kim, “Korean Aesthetic Consciousness and the Problem
of Aesthetic Rationality”, Canadian Aesthetics Journal, Vol. 2, 1998.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 361
K. M. KIM
there are no specific ideas or rules to define them. Experimen-
talism and avant-gardism are considered as new challenges,
inspirations, and possibilities away from a relatively conserva-
tive and dogmatic perspective of previous arts. They are also
conventional but sensitive issues linked to the matters of tradi-
tion and modernity, of particularity and universality. “Contem-
porary art that challenges conventional artwork framework is
those objects and performances that simulate or are situated in
our everyday installation, performance, interactive piece, as-
semblage art.”24 A symbol of special sentiment and sensibility
expressed by the word, “Korean”. The exquisite harmony and
naturalness constituted by pieces with the aesthetic conscious-
ness in Korean art. In addition, special aesthetic traits shaped
unique sensitivity. Figures are made not by rules or principles,
but by spontaneity, and by choices and acts in a moment of
“Folksong”, “popular ballad”, “folk arts” and “arts of the
people” are related to everyday aesthetics. People keep and
cherish them in heart. These come into being spontaneously.
These grow and appear spontaneously. Korean folk crafts are
handcrafted art of ordinary people in daily life. Their beauty
can be discovered in everyday ordinary and utilitarian objects
such as ceramics, lacquer, textiles, and woodwork, etc. created
by nameless and unknown craftsmen. Crafts made by anony-
mous people produced by hand in quantity that are inexpensive.
They are used by the masses and functional in daily life repre-
sentative of the regions in which they were produced. Korean
pottery which is produced with pure white clay has the beauty
of daily life. Korean white pottery is marked by fine paintings
in cobalt blue or iron red of natural images celebrating perfect
balance, elegant form, subtle tranquility and simple beauty with
high practicality in everyday. It is continued through transmis-
sion from the past to the present. In the context of the effective
history of H.-G. Gadamer’s hermeneutics, “the true historical
object is not an object at all, but the unity of the one and the
other, a relationship in which exists both the reality of history
and the reality of historical understanding.”25
We can see characteristics of Korean beauty appearing in
daily life. What is worth noting here is the essence of aesthetic
consciousness. In folk painting we can read an aesthetics of
simplicity and naturalness. It is often focused on the gods and
spirits of the popular shaman. Shamanism is the most authentic
cultural legacy of Koreans, but we have forgotten it in the
course of acculturation, especially so-called westernization,
modernization, or globalization. In Korean shamanism, the con-
cept of the boundary between the outside world and the village
itself is much stronger than the world-centered outlook. The
symbol of wholeness found in Korean shamanism is expressed
through the motif of harmony or the union of opposites, a re-
flection of the relationship between Yin and Yang as the cosmic
dual forces. Yin and Yang are not the two antagonistic ele ments,
but the coexistent elements. Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism,
and other religious elements influence the unique nature of the
Korean character together with shamanism. In fact, they play a
decisive role in determining the Korean mentality or conscious-
For Koreans, nature is a mirror of the self and a world of
meditation which gives life, restoring all things to their proper
state. Naturalism is an attribute of Korean art because of Kore-
ans’ indigenous view of nature, i.e. the view of holding com-
munion with nature. However, the relativity in this concept of
naturalism gives way to errors in the interpretation of the char-
acteristics of Korean art. A distinguishing characteristic of Ko-
rean art is not naturalist in the western sense of the term. If the
tradition of Korean art is set against the background of a “return
to nature”, I think a more appropriate term is “pan-naturalism”,
because the nature portrayed in Korean art is not a product of
an objective world, but an expression of an omnipresent view
of nature bespeaking both the consciousness of human beings
and the source of life. This pan-naturalism as naturalness,
working in concert with post-naturalism, makes it possible to
call a work of art genuinely Korean.27
Ko Yu-seup, the renowned art historian and aesthetician,
once said Korean art was characterized by its “lack of refine-
ment” and “nonchalance”. In addition, he defines the character-
istics of Korean art as the qualities of “technique without tech-
nique”, “Planning without planning”, “asymmetry”. It is not too
much to say that these features have dominated everyday con-
sciousness of the Korean people as well as Korean art. Here we
can see also Kantian purposiveness without purpose, lawfulness
without law, or conception without concept. “In most cases, a
work of Korean art is probably not meticulous in minute details.
It rather tends to embrace a wholeness, hence its savory taste in
total effect. This nonchalance lies in the docile state of mind of
Korean artists and artisans who love nature as it is.”28 In Ko-
rean art we can confirm the compatibility of symmetry and
asymmetry, technique and non-technique. Ko concluded that its
lack of meticulous detail enabled it to be embraced by a
wholeness larger than art and hence emanate a warm, comfort-
Ko’s view is a simple but eloquent description of the charac-
teristics of traditional Korean art. However, it seems to be in-
adequate for clarifying the characteristics of contemporary
Korean art. This is the reason why art is influenced continu-
ously by trends and cultural changes. Nevertheless, I think his
view represents the daily aesthetic consciousness of the Korean
people. Today’s art, for example, is conditioned to existent so-
cial, cultural, historical and religious contexts. It is very diffi-
cult to comprehend a work without understanding the culture of
which played an important role in shaping the personality and
mental attitude of the artist who created it. Korean aesthetics
must be inherent in contemporary Korean art, regardless of its
dominant Western influence.29 But we can here compare and
pay attention to the problem of disinterestedness or non-tech-
nique applicable to everyday life as well as to art.
During the Japanese occupation in Korea (1910-1945), Japa-
nese aesthetician Yanagi Muneyoshi defined Korean beauty as
“beauty of sadness” and “innate, original beauty created by the
Korean race” in his book Korea and its Art (1922). He was
severely criticized by Korean intellectuals as presenting a “co-
lonialist view of history”. Yanagi believed that the long history
of foreign invasions of Korea was reflected in Korean art, and
especially in its pottery, in the “sad and lonely” lines. Such a
theory has been criticized by Korean scholars as the “aesthetic
of colonialism”. Another Japanese specialist in Korean Pottery,
Tanaka Toyotaro, states that Korean ware is rather born than
27Kwang Myung Kim , ibid.
28Yu-Seup Ko, “Characteristic of Korean Art”, in his Essays on History o
orean Art and Aestheti cs, Seoul: Tongmungwan, 1963, pp. 6-8.
29Kwang Myung Kim , ibid.
24Yuriko Saito, Everyday Aesthetics, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 32.
25Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. by Garret Barden and
John Cumming, New Yo rk: th e Crossroad, 1982, p. 267.
26Kwang Myung Kim , ibid.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
K. M. KIM
made. His statement seems to emphasize naturalness and to
exclude artificiality. “There is no linking of hesitation on the
part of the potter”,30 he adds. He also refers this point of view
to spontaneity as an outstanding trait of Korean art. Evelyn
McCune, an American art historian born in Korea, asserts that
refinement and crudeness are the two polarizing qualities exist-
ing in Korean art. Both qualities reveal honesty and contribute
to strength, or vitality.31 Here honesty is purity, a trust in nature.
According to R. Griffing, Korean art is solid, straight-forward
and modest and there is no sign of the classicism of Chinese
intellects nor the technicality of the Japanese.32 I think this am-
bivalence of refinement and crudeness, asymmetry and symme-
try, technique and non-technique is still valid in everyday aes-
thetic consciousness of Korean people as well as in Korean art.
D. Seckel defines “Koreanness”, so to speak, typical charac-
teristics of Korean art by detecting as follows: 1) The decom-
position of form complexes into small elements like a mosaic
work; 2) Flat in volume and graphically linear in surface design.
Nevertheless, the underlying characteristics of Korean art are
vitality, spontaneity and unconcern for technical perfection, i.e.,
nonchalance.33 These interpretations can actually be summed
up in his terms like vitality, spontaneity and unconcern for tech-
nical perfection. Vitality is a strength, resulting from the non-
chalance of a creator who is free from hesitation, and free from
the conflict between the beautiful and the ugly. The strength is
even enhanced as he reduces decorations and makes the best of
the virtue of his materials itself, the texture and natural grain,
for example, in the case of wood. This tendency is closely re-
lated, in the end, to the second and third virtues that we have
often discussed, i.e. spontaneity and unconcern for technical
perfection. Spontaneity is dual in nature. It involves an artist’s
attitude toward his work as well as his taste for a spontaneous
quality. This love of spontaneity, for instance, is reflected in the
tendency of leaving pottery an undecorated object, eliciting a
delightful feeling of expanded space leading to the lack of arti-
ficial pretense. Thus, the nature of Korean art is often apparent
in the everyday life of the Korean people.
Aesthetic Contemplation in Everyday Life
We are involved in day-to-day lives, and participants in eve-
ryday life. It appears to be routine. But contemplation keeps
distance in everyday life and through reflexive process can
reach the core of everyday life. What does it mean and why do
we need to do? I think the purpose of contemplation is to find
nature from the inside of the human. We are living in natural
environments like seasonal changes of climate everyday. Some-
times we have a calm aesthetic contemplation of it. Our aes-
thetic tendencies and emotions are often affected by weather. Fo r
an instance, Japanese haiku as a very short form of poetry
shows us the seasonal reference of the natural world. Saito says,
“weather has been, is and will be, experienced by every human
beings”.34 Daily weather is constantly changing and affects us
through many senses. In weather conditions we can feel aes-
thetic appreciation of transience and permanence at the same
time. Saito directs her attention to subtle changes in the weather
and the sense of the season that brings influences on our aes-
thetic emotions. The changes in the natural environment that
has a deep association with our daily lives have a significant
impact on our aesthetic emotions. The natural beauty in every-
day life makes us have a space of time to immerse ourselves in
Korean art also tends to be devoid of an artificial movement
and this reflects dislike of disturbance, deformation and con-
vention. Thus, it guides us to a world of quiet contemplation.
Korean art has been characterized by submission to nature, and
the lack of the artificial consciousness. Thus it has developed
within the framework of naturalism. Because of its multiplicity,
naturalism as such is a vague term. To make it more precise, we
must consider the Korean’s basic philosophy lies not in a
man-oriented idealism but in a naturalism oriented by nature.
Its special historical background seems to have played a great
part in the formation of their national character, such as accep-
tance of reality, resignation, optimism, trust in nature, escapism,
and dislike of artificiality. But this reasoning looks insufficient
to support our discussions on the character of Korean people
and their art. A more satisfying answer for this can be found in
a careful, synthetic consideration of various elements, such as
topography, geography, history, cultural environment, and life,
style, which constitute a specific composite whole. The cultural
tradition of a people derives from a composite mode of life
formed over a long period in a specific pattern of environment.
Characteristics of a cultural tradition contribute in turn to the
formation of a cultural tradition.35
The distancing with the objects is a sort of distinctive aes-
thetic attitude of Korean people. It is not participatory involve-
ment, but contemplative distancing. Such an aesthetic attitude is
not irrelevant to the long history that has dominated the daily
life of Koreans. “Aesthetics concerns itself with states of mind,
worldviews and artifacts that are immersed in, and take their
character from the stream of human history.”36 Everyday we
interact with sensuous qualities like size, shape, color, texture,
sound, sometimes smell. The Kantian term of “aesthetic” de-
noted the sensuous aspect of our appreciation of beauty. We
appreciate and evaluate the arrangement of parts on a daily
basis that make up the world in which we live. There are many
aesthetic issues involved in our dealings with everyday things if
these are closely related to sensuous aspects.
As noted a little above, in Kant’s aesthetics, “disinterested-
ness” in the judgment of taste has a very unique meaning. Peo-
ple often consider disinterestedness as a lack of interest, and
think it very negatively. Kantian disinterestedness is the con-
centration or harmony of interests. It excludes only the theo-
retical and practical concepts of interest, it just tends to the
aesthetic interest. In other words, disinterestedness is similar to
“interestedness without interest” like “purposiveness without
purpose”. Disinterestedness of pleasure in beauty is a sort of
contemplative pleasure.37 According to Kant, disinterested con-
templation is the capacity to see things in nature as intrinsically
valuable, and as ends in themselves. Aesthetic disinterestedness
30Tanaka Toyotaro, Yi Dynasty Ceramics, Tokyo, 1944, pp. 257-258.
31Evelyn McCune, The Arts of Korea, T urt le Co., 1962, p. 20.
32Asia House Gallery, “The Art of the Korean Potter”, The Asia Society,
1968, p. 13.
33D. Seckel, “Some Characteristic of Korean Art”, Oriental Art, Spring
1997, pp. 52-61.
34Yuriko Saito, “The Aesthetics of Weather”, in Andrew Light and Jona-
than M. Smith (ed.), The Aesthetics of Everyday Li fe, Columbia Univ. Press
2005, p. 157.
35Kwang Myung Kim , ibid.
36Roger Scruton, “In Search of the Aesthetic”, British Journal of Aesthetics,
Vol. 47, No. 3, Jan. 2007, p. 235.
37cf. Kwang Myung Kim, “Kant’s Disinterestedness and the Characteristics
of Korean Beauty”, in Kwang Myung Kim, Thinking on Art, Seoul: Ha-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 363
K. M. KIM
is only free from practical or theoretical interest. It is the fo-
cusing of attention itself and the harmony of interests for a full
perceiving of the beauty. I think this disinterestedness can be
compared with Buddhistic mind collected in one state. Bud-
dhistic mind as a mindlessness is the opposite of the mindful-
ness. Mindfulness is the product of agony filled with desire, on
the other hand, the mindlessness as an emptiness of the mind is
the mental state of calmness and contemplation beyond any
Now in Buddha I want to explore the state of contemplation.
In Buddhistic figural sculpture, the body, arms and particularly
the face, are full and gracefully modeled, and unbroken lines
run from the head to the tip of the toes. The drapery folds are
depicted in animated realism, and the sensitive, human ap-
proach is immaculately perfected by technical excellence with
an overall effect and pattern, definitely Korean. This idealistic
naturalism has been the basic undercurrent in Korean art
throughout the ages. We can observe the dual meaning of sym-
metry and asymmetry, technique and non-technique. Despite
the dual meaning, the culmination of Silla38 sculpture is shown
well in its technical symmetry and witnessed by the sculptures
of the Sokkuram cave-temple that date from the mid-8th cen-
tury. The main Buddha within the stone-built circular domed
structure is a colossal seated Buddha surrounded by relief-fig-
ures of Disciples. The main Buddha, carved out of a single
block of granite, is an imposing monument. It is, however, not
awkward or stiff, and there is a feeling of warmth beneath the
cold stone surface. The facial expression is a perfect combina-
tion of the spiritual Buddha and the historic man, creating an
eternal peace and calmness. In every figure with in the artificial
cave, traditional Korean naturalism and a slight touch of con-
ventionalism are combined to create a sensitive yet divinely
spiritual religious statue.39 The figure of Buddha is very similar
to the figure of everyday Korean people at that time.
Immersion in the natural world is well appeared in Korean
people as well as in Korean art. Especially pan-naturalism or
naturalness is related to the Korean mentality and aesthetic
consciousness. Mindfulness and mindlessness are not contrary.
Mindful contemplation is the state of mindlessness. Aesthetic
approach to the object itself makes it possible to get the state of
mindlessness, namely contemplation.
So called, in the end era of art or after the end of art, accord-
ing to Danto, “it became apparent that there were no stylistic or
philosophical constraints. There is no special way works of art
have to be. And that is the present and, I should say, the final
moment in the master narrative. It is the end of the story”.40
Anyway there is no more a boundary between art and non-art,
even anti-art. We are living in the time when everything coex-
ists in entanglement. The aesthetics of the present is the aes-
thetics of the everyday. “Much of contemporary art is hardly
aesthetic at all, but it has in its stead the power of meaning and
the possibility of truth, and depends upon the interpretation that
brings these into play.”41 The aesthetic is not closed, but open
to everything, everybody and ev eryday.
If we are to consider Korean contemporary art from the
global perspective, we must define what it means to be Korean,
i.e. our cultural habits and artistic elements hidden behind the
Korean aesthetic consciousness. It’s the problem of the identity
as well. In this era of globalization, the question of Korea’s
artistic identity is attracting a lot of attention. While many point
to the relevance of national identity, the question of the indi-
vidual artist’s personal identity also seems important. Korean
artists must concern themselves with specific issues. Namely,
they have to take a broad view toward the idea of visual media.
And they have to transcend the narrow sensory, conceptual, and
formal significance of arts to discover its fundamental character.
They must constantly review their own society, and their own
culture, for ultimately their art is rooted in their own national
cultural sensibility. It’s much more than a question of how we
portray our Korean aesthetic consciousness.
Korean contemporary art shows us a clear tendency toward
stylistic pluralism and creative individualism. While experi-
mentation in the new media is encouraging, experimentalism
should be a means of reacting to the mainstream, not a means
of destroying it. In our contemporary world, the human con-
sciousness is no longer dominated by a single idea or ideology.
Everyday we attempt to look at all aspects of life from an indi-
vidual point of view, and it is a valuable achievement in this
age of fluidity and openness. Beneath the individual lives and
everyday experiences lie more layers of truth to be revealed and
redefined in the future.
As in the case of western avant-garde, experimentation
makes our reality reflective. Experimental methods make the
art world free from the restrictions of tradition. Each method
strove to break with traditional limitations, although there were
many variations and degrees of experimentation. It is only the
relic of the past to reject the stream of change. Something new
comes off not from the separation between the past and the
present, but from the historical continuity in the name of effec-
tive history. In this age of multiculturalism, the new interpreta-
tion of tradition makes it possible to merge Korean art with the
global stage. The extension of aesthetic emotion through ex-
perimentation shows us the change of aesthetic consciousness
as a new possibility of interpretation. We are in urgent need of
a new theory of art. It will be related to the future of aesthetics.
Every day as a moment is connected to the future. It is not only
a present, but also a represent.42
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of ancient Korean art, especially Buddhist statues, granite Buddhist images
and pagoda s.
39Kwang Myung Kim, “Korean Aesthetic Consciousness and the Problem
of Aesthetic Rationality”, Canadian Aesthetics Journal, Vol. 2, 1998.
40Arthur C. Danto,
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42I am grateful to Prof . Mitch Green and Mr. Cliff Maxwell at the Univer-
sity of Virginia for his helpful comments and improvem ents on my pa per.
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