[NOTEBOOK]Colors reveal a long, bright past

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[NOTEBOOK]Colors reveal a long, bright past

The North Korean cheering squad at the Busan Asian Games captivated many people in South Korea. It was not only the beauty of the female fans but the unexpectedly bold displays of color in their outfits that caught many people's attention here. Pink, green and yellow in the traditional dresses, and a striking blue, red, gold and white in the brass band garb were some examples of the dashing styles revealed.

Perhaps a lot of this display was a deliberate attempt concocted by North Korean designers to impress the Southern folks. However, people in the design business on this side of the border found the styles refreshing. Huh Dong-hwa, the president of the Korea Embroidery Museum in southern Seoul, said what was noticeable about the North Korean women's clothing was the abundance of pink colors. "Pink was the color historically favored by Koreans," he said.

There is an explanation for this preference, Mr. Huh said. Each spring and summer, the entire peninsula becomes overrun with the attractive sight of azaleas, peach blossoms and apricot blossoms. The North Korean women in Busan showed that they share the same preference for color as the South's.

Our sensibilities involving color has brought us pride and an international reputation. Mr. Huh and his wife have put on more than 40 well-received exhibitions of embroidery and traditional wrapping cloth, in France and the United States, textile materials that had been made and long used by Korean women.

The director of Musee Guimet in Paris, Jean-Francois Jarrige, said in a book edited by Mr. Huh last year, "The World of Colorful Delight," that the colorful and abstract beauty of Korean embroidery is comparable to the works of Mondrian and Klee, two modern artists. The director of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Kevin Fewster, commented on the impact of the art on Australians by saying it was a remarkable display of color and shape in modern forms.

The archetypical beauty of Korean color can be found, according to a master of Korean beauty, the late Choi Sun-woo, in the jade color of the Goryeo Dynasty ceramics. It is the color of the sky just clearing after a storm. The indigo blue that popularly adorns the "everyday hanbok," the modern adaptation of traditional Korean attire, is our great pride and joy. Created with natural dyes, the blue is modifiable in hundreds of shades.

The people at Hyundai Motor's design institute have identified Japan's color preferences as soft and neutral, rather than dazzling and brilliant. Japanese women are known for using light makeup. The same people saw Koreans preferring brilliant colors of high chromas, while the Chinese tend to prefer brilliant colors of darker shades. Koreans do prefer primary colors. But there is definitely a wide acceptance of more neutral colors, such as indigo blue. The wide spectrum of color choices here is noticeable in the range of characteristics -- from the superior quality of tie designs to the pastel attire of people on the street.

Lee Ki-yeon, the president of Jilkyungyee, a maker of everyday hanbok, points to Korea's environment as the root of superior color creations. With its four distinct seasons and the 24 turns of climate on the lunar calendar, the surroundings change color every 15 days. Color coordination is a natural phenomenon here. Koreans traditionally refer to the landscape as "a natural display of brocade and embroidery." The peninsula has a mix of maritime, continental and mountainous climates, creating an environment that is accommodating to diverse vegetation. Korea reportedly has more than three times the number of plant species than England.

But there is also a problem. Training in the art of color is neglected, and industrial adaptation is at a primitive stage, according to the president of the Korea Color Research Institute, Han Dong-soo. Korean students learn about only 20 colors by the time they leave college, compared with 84 different colors that Japanese primary school students come to know. More needs to be taught about color coordination, perhaps by introducing color play into the curriculum. It is the age of visual appeal in commerce, where color is an important marketing tool that can translate to commercial sales. The potential of our sensibility for color should be put to greater purposes.


The writer is the life and leisure news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Il

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