[Outlook]Flying with scented wings

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[Outlook]Flying with scented wings

The Korea Culture and Tourism Institute recently released a report about Korean artists.
According to its findings, around 60 percent of the people engaged in art and culture earn less than 1 million won per month from their artistic works. Thus, few artists can afford to dedicate themselves to their creative work. A considerable number of these people are categorized as recipients of welfare payments and make a living by doing manual labor, house repairs or decorating.
The lives of these artists have deteriorated to this miserable condition because Koreans have less and less interest in art and, as a result, the demand for the work of artists has declined dramatically.
According to a survey released by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism last November, 65.8 percent of those surveyed said they had enjoyed an artistic event more than once during the period from June 2005 to May 2006. This figure is a 3.4 percent increase on the previous year, but the rise is due to increasing numbers of moviegoers.
Other areas saw declines. Compared with 2003, the numbers of visitors to fine art galleries went down to 6.8 percent from 10.4. Classical music fell to 3.6 percent from 6.3, traditional arts to 4.4 per cent from 5.2.
These numbers mean that Koreans have become increasingly estranged from art and culture, and I think it’s because life in Korea is getting harder.
From a traditional economic point of view, art and culture are not directly related to production. Thus some regard them as a waste of time and money, or an extravagance. However, we cannot ignore mental stimulation when it comes to economic activities. I am not sure that there is an econometric theory which measures the role of art and culture and the contribution it makes to the wealth of a country. Yet it seems that the wealthiest countries are also the mostly culturally advanced countries and, maybe, there is a causal relationship between the two.
Park Je-ka, a philosopher during the latter days of the Joseon Dynasty, thought that art and culture had both economic and mental benefits in the lives of the people.
He said that the Joseon Dynasty’s poverty and backwardness could be attributed to its excessive frugality, and that a country whose people enjoy the arts and culturally inspiring surroundings often become richer.
Park argued as follows: “Wealth is like a well. If you pump water from it, there is always plenty of water left. But if you stop pumping, then the well will drain away. If people do not wear silk clothes, no one will produce silk. As a result, weaving skills will get worse.”
In the Joseon Dynasty, when the country used Confucianism as its founding precept and put frugality above all other virtues, another scholar, Park Ji-won advocated globalization and attempted to make the country rich and civilized.
At that time, appreciating painting was regarded as a taboo that a man of virtue should guard against, because an interest in objects could diminish his soul. Park Ji-won criticized this notion.
“Mountains and clouds are certainly not things we can eat or wear, but people like to enjoy looking at them. What type of person is a man if he ignores or cannot appreciate antiques and paintings and writings because those things are not related to his livelihood?
“Butterflies that live on flowers smell good from their wings to their antennas, but those that develop in manure give out stink. As insects are, so are human beings. My concern and fear is that our people do not smell sweet from their wings and antennas.”
We can learn a lesson from these two scholars of the Joseon Dynasty.
Politicians say that politics can change the world, while economists say that the economy can do that.
However, the basis for politics and the economy is culture.
U.S. senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan aptly described the status of culture when he said, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.”
Indeed, it is culture that saves the world for, with art, we feed on the fruit of men’s souls.

*The writer is the head of K-Auction. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Soon-eung

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