[FOUNTAIN]True reform is more than appearancesCalligraphy is the least celebrated genre in the Korean art market. While some paintings are sold for several hundred million won, calligraphy work can barely be sold for several hundred thousand won. Traditionally, Koreans have high respect for calligraphy, for penmanship best reflects the personality. However, few people are willing to pay a fortune to buy calligraphy works. The genre has become nearly obsolete.
However, certain works are in high demand. Galleries in Insa-dong often get requests to find them, and they are always sold at good prices when they are auctioned. They are not the works of noted Joseon calligraphers such as Kim Jeong-hui or Han Seok-bong. The most highly priced calligraphy works are the writings of presidents. So many people want to hang a piece of calligraphy personally written by a former president.
In 1995, the director of the Cultural Heritage Administration, Yoou Hong-june, then an art critic, contributed a story on the handwriting of the presidents in a magazine. Considered to be an authoritative art critic, Mr. You analyzed the handwriting of former leaders with a reference to their characteristics. Mr. You wrote that Syngman Rhee, the first president, had outstanding handwriting skills. He found the writing of Choi Kyu-hah is like that of a model handwriting book, and Roh Tae-woo’s writing reflects his complex feelings. The favorite phrase of former president Kim Young-sam, “daedomumun,” meaning “the grand way has no door,” reflects his philosophy.
Ten years after Mr. You’s analysis, the controversy over replacing the wooden name plate hung on Gwanghwamun focuses on the writing of Park Chung Hee. His handwriting reflects his boldness and military discipline, and Mr. You had named the style “commander writing” for “you can even feel bellicosity from the writing of Gwanghwamun.” Mr. You seems to still have the same question why Mr. Park, not a very good calligrapher, chose to personally write the plate that made people uncomfortable.
Replacing a single plaque will not change the past, but if the board is a part of history, it is worth keeping. Reform is not just about changing the appearance. What is more important are continuous and sincere efforts to change attitudes. King Jeongjo might be lamenting his descendants’ foolish fight over a simple name plate.
by Chung Jae-suk
The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.