Is Shin Yoon-bok a woman? Is it true that Shin Yoon-bok and Kim Hong-do loved each other? In the epic drama The Painter of Wind and the film Portrait of a Beauty, they are different from what we used to know about them. According to the drama and the film, Shin might have been a woman who wanted to be a painter but only to fail. She had to disguise herself as a man because in the Joseon Dynasty women were not allowed to become a painter. Kim was the man who taught Shin how to paint and they developed friendship into love. But Shin was almost dismissed as a painter from the government's painting department because she painted erotic pictures during the holy ritual for rain. I wonder if Shin was a woman really and painted erotic pictures. Everybody knows what Shin and Kim are but not many people understand what they really wanted to paint. Who are they? What kind of pictures did they paint?
Who are they, Shin Yoon-bok and Kim Hong-do?
Kim Hong-do and Shin Yoon-bok are painters who lived during the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty and were known for realistic and delicate depictions of daily life. But there is no historical evidence for where and when they were born and died. So some people would raise such a question as whether Shin was a woman dressed like a man. Historical documents tell us that Shin was a man and one of the painters belonging to the government's painting department called the Dohwaseo. He broke the rule that painters were not allowed to explicate drawings and he was finally deprived of his qualifications as a painter. Kim was also a painter at the Dohwaseo. He was so outstanding that he was permitted to paint a portrait of the king three times. Unlike as in the drama and film, most historians say Kim and Shin didn't have a relationship as teacher and pupil even though they were contemporary artists at the Dohwaseo.
Kim was excellent in all forms of paintings including landscape, portrait, folk and buddhist paintings. As a painter at the Dohwaseo, he tried to combine the method of painting in Korea with that in the West. He painted people using simple and clear lines. His masterpieces, as you know, are "Soedang"(Scene from a Village School) and "Ssireum"(wrestling). All Shin's masterpieces including "Portrait of a Beauty" and "Scenery on Dano Day" depict women even though women were not meant to be the main subject in a painting. And he also satirized the noble class and the priest in his paintings. Most art critics say he is excellent at drawing the love affair between man and woman by applying soft and colorful lines. Both Kim and Shin painted ordinary people who could not have been main subject in pictures in the early Joseon Dynasty.
Kim, Shin and their Eroticism
Several erotic paintings painted by these artists have been discovered. The rigid Confucianism in Korea regarded any discourse about sexual pleasure as taboo. How could they paint erotic paintings? They lived during the period of Kings Young Jo and Jeong Jo, what is called the Renaissance of the Joseon Dynasty. This was a period of stable politics and economic stability. With economic development, there was an inflow of Chinese erotic culture. The more power and money middle class people had, the more they desired this kind of erotic expression.
Kim and Shin were adventurous and they were fascinated in this form of paintings when nobody showed any interest about them. For most people erotic paintings were something untouchable but Kim and Shin were attracted to this art form and they wanted to challenge to draw the paintings in new style. There already existed many pornographic painters but Kim and Shin's paintings are different: theirs are erotic not pornographic. The reason why their painting is art can be explained in one sentence: they think sexual desire is something most people, high or low, hold in common. Their erotic paintings are distinguished from Chinese and Japanese paintings even though the Korean traditional erotic paintings were influenced by the two Asian countries. In the Chinese traditional pornographic painting, they focus on only royal and noble families taking pleasure in sex. Their costumes are extremely vivid, luxurious and ostentatious, unlike the clothes of the average person. The paintings focused only on making sex. They are more pornographic than artistic. In Japanese traditional pornographic painting, it is more folksy than in Chinese art, but the actions are too exaggerated to be true. When I see them, I think it is a little strange and abnormal.
I prefer to watch Kim's paintings because they offer a romantic landscape; a beautiful scene where a man and woman have an affectionate love affair. The rock in the painting symbolizes a woman's ass and the branches of a pine tree soaring toward the sky symbolizes penis in Kim's painting. He used these symbols to express the harmony between male and female.
As in a romance novel, Shin's paintings tell us the relationship and romantic love between man and woman.
A widow and a girl, sitting in a tree, see dogs mating. The widow looks at them with a strange smile, but the girl is just embarrassed by them and begins to pinch the widow's leg to stop her laughing. Shin wants to express sexual humor through this painting.
In the Joseon Dynasty, people pretended to be rigid regarding sexuality but they weren't in reality. This contradictory attitude toward sex helped create Kim and Shin's unique erotic paintings. I think their success as painters comes from integrating sex in which everybody is interested with art. Generally their paintings were considered pornographic at that time, but nowadays they are considered as valuable artistic paintings. I think this shows that our society has improved in the recognition of sexuality as an art. Sex is connected with many things like emotion, rationality, social system and culture. Sex is commonly an instinct and something private to most people. Our culture is still affected by Confucian ideas but today, 200years later, the fact that their erotic paintings are valued as art, shows many people consider sex not as something to hide but as a necessary part in every life.
I wonder why society has changed its view from pornographic painting to erotic art.
Kim na-eun reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
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