Saturday, December 12, 2015

Guest Post: “Yoong Bae at the Asian Art Museum” by Jennifer Huynh

For an assignment I went to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and looked at the works of an artist named Yoong Bae (1928–1992).  Bae was a Korean artist who was known for blending Korean artistic traditions with modern Western art while reflecting the calmness and harmony of someone at peace. The two artworks I was most interested by him were a painting called “Perseverance” and a silk screen print named “Meditation.” I thought that both of these works were rather unique and a bit dark. In “Perseverance” you can see that he used a lot of dark colors, mainly black and grey. There is a horse and people in this house. In the top part of the house, you can see a black figure that is supposed to represent a person and he is meditating inside of a box. There are also a variety of colors, kind of like a rainbow, coming out of the right side of the roof of the house.  In the lower part of the house, there are two people sitting on top of a horse. The person sitting in the front is holding a spear while the person behind is holding a huge leaf. Underneath the horse is someone meditating and there is a purple ghost-like figure that is hanging from the stomach of the horse upside down. Its head is facing the meditator who is sitting underneath the horse, looking as if it was going to kiss the meditator or suck their soul out. Finally, on the left side of the house is the word “perseverance” shown vertically. The other work of art, “Meditation,” (1991) is a silk screen print and it is a little more colorful than “Perseverance.” The background is orange with bits of red. In the bottom left corner is a black figure, most likely a person, meditating. Hovering over the person is a massive black bird with its head down and its beak almost touching the top of the person’s head. Interestingly, the bird takes up most of the space while the person is rather small and is put in this corner. Both of these works were part of a series Yoong Bae created called Meditation.   
            While looking at “Perseverance”, the first thing I noticed was the color. Dark colors, mostly black and grey, were used throughout the  painting except in the top right corner where there is a rainbow of colors coming out of the top right side of the home.  I would say that the painting  is more ugly than beautiful. The horse does not look like a regular horse. The body of the horse is very small compared to the front and its legs are really long. The figures representing people are all-black, some having shades of purple in them, and they have blue slits for eyes. To me, they looked like monsters or some kind of demon that was meant to scare or inflict harm. Upon first glance, I had felt a little terrified yet intrigued. As for “Meditation,” I thought this painting was beautiful. Again, the first thing I noticed was the color. It was a bit brighter than “Perseverance” seeing that the background was an orangish-goldish red color. Both the person and the bird are painted black but it does not seem as dark as the last painting. Being that the figures are black and the background is orangish-goldish red, they seem to complement one another.
            While looking at “Perseverance,” I thought that the person meditating in the top half of the home was the same person who was meditating in the lower part of the house, and the rainbow colors that were coming out represented him reaching some sort of enlightenment. I also thought that the purple ghost-like figure represented some sort of temptation or desire that wanted to prevent him from reaching enlightenment. In the description of the painting, it says that “The meditators and the horse riders are about to embark on their own spiritual journey. The iridescent lights and upside-down ghostly figure permeate the geometric house-like frame. On the left, the word “Perseverance” implies enduring hardships and the strenuous path to enlightenment.” This painting suggests that through self-accomplishment and the formation of artistic identity, you can achieve a path to enlightenment. It was a little hard to understand what was going on from the first glance but after looking at it for a couple more minutes; I began to understand what the painting was about or could have been about. As a work of art, I thought it was really good. I thought it was better than any similar works of art that I had experienced because this work  was unique and I actually enjoyed it. For an aesthetic experience, it wasn’t great but the painting had a really good meaning behind it. Emotions also had a somewhat big role in my experience of looking at this work because when I first looked at it, I had felt myself feeling a bit terrified yet awed at this painting that was quite different from what I usually saw such as portraits, landscapes, or things that were kitsch. After that initial feeling, I began to have feelings of curiosity, wanting to know as much as I can of the painting by analyzing it and reading the description.  The work of art taught me that in order to achieve in life, you must persevere through hardships and do what you can to reach your goal.
As I started to look at “Meditation” next, it was a whole lot easier to interpret what the painting was about. I thought that the person in the corner represents us humans and that, with our busy lives, sometimes we just have to relax. The person in the corner is meditating while the big, black bird that takes up most of the space in the painting represents all of the burdens or things in life that we see as important but are actually distractions. The big, black bird could also be something or someone that watches over us to make sure that we are safe. In the description of the work, it is said that “this strikingly powerful image evokes various interpretations and interesting questions such as is it a bird, a guardian figure, a divine being, or a symbolic creature that controls or world? Below the black figure, a man meditates, perhaps balancing resistance and submission.” I thought it was an excellent work of art. It gave me a good aesthetic experience, it was better than similar works I have experienced, and it was a valuable experience. Emotions also played a role for me while looking at this painting with feelings of curiosity, because I wanted to know why there was a big, black bird taking up most of the painting, and being able to relate to the meditator. How I interpreted the work of art was that while the man was meditating, you can see this big, black bird above him. I felt the bird represented our burdens and distractions in life. Since it was hovering over him and not actually touching him, it could not get to him because he was at peace while meditating. This painting taught me that sometimes in life, we have to take things easy and relax. An easy way to accomplish that would be to meditate.
Most of what I had just talked about with these works of art can relate to Edmund Burke’s ideas of the sublime. As I had explained in the beginning, the painting “Perseverance” left me feeling terrified yet awed. For Burke, there are two components of the sublime: delight and terror. I had felt terror from seeing mainly dark colors throughout the painting and the black figures that were represented as humans and yet looked nothing like humans and, to me, looked more like evil creatures. They even had blue slits for eyes. However, the awe I felt as well, which would be the delight aspect, was also from seeing these black figures as representation of humans. I’ve never really seen anyone portray humans in this way so I was fascinated. I found it to be interesting and weird to look at. According to Burke, there are also three aspects to his concept of the sublime. First, he suggests that sublimity evokes the infinite through obscurity, vagueness, and suggestion as opposed to clarity and precision[1]. This is true for both of the paintings because when you look at them, it’s up to you how you want to interpret them. There is not a clear cut answer. Second, he asserts that the sublimity lies not in its imagery but rather the emotions it evokes in the reader.. When looking at these two paintings, I felt myself feeling a variety of emotions and they felt real. Lastly, there is, according to Burke, always an element of pain, difficulty, and fear in the sublime aesthetic reaction.. This is true in this case as I had reacted with fear and difficulty upon seeing “Perseverance” for the first time.

[1] Lokke, Kari Elise. 1982.” The Role of Sublimity in the Development of Modernist Aesthetics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 40 (4) (Summer): 421-9.

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