Korean Calligraphy—A Modern Perspective on a Traditional Art Form

Posted on 29. Feb, 2012 by in Culture, History, Holidays, Korean Art, Korean Culture, Korean Language, Uncategorized, Vocabulary

If you are studying the Korean language, known as Hangul (한글), you may appreciate its simplicity. 한글 is a relatively new writing system with a scientific background; its 24 characters represent the features of the mouth when pronouncing each shape, letter. It was invented by King Sejong during the Joseon Dynasty in 1446, but was not fully recognized until Korea’s independence from Japan in 1945. Therefore, 한글 is closely tied to Koreans’ national pride. To further show an appreciation for 한글, “한글 Day” is celebrated on October 9th.

What better way to showcase 한글 and “한글 pride” than through calligraphy? The Korean word for calligraphy is “서예”;  transliteration: “seoyeh”. 서예 is considered a high art form in Korea, and it is taught as an elective at most Korean universities and cultural centers.

한글 서예 is unique, subtle, and elegant. Often written and read from top to bottom, it differs from Chinese and Japanese calligraphy because its lines are written differently. 한글 has a geometric-like “personality” with its scientific background, and the circular “O” stroke is exclusive to 한글 서예.

A few weeks ago, I met a modern day Korean-American Calligrapher named Myong-Won Kwong; his calligraphic “pen name” is Mook Jae. He exudes a deep appreciation for 한글 and 서예. His artwork can be found at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.—to name a few. He has had numerous solo exhibitions in the U.S. and South Korea; you can read more about him via his website: http://mookjae.com . I also discovered a fascinating calligraphic performance by Mr. Kwon—a 150 foot scrolled message of “Let us pray for world peace and well-being.”— on YouTube: http://youtu.be/liaauEpSFuQ.

Mr. Kwon states that, “Calligraphy mirrors one’s mind [and soul]. The words I write reflect my personal thoughts and emotions. Through their meaning, shapes, images, and illusions of color, I hope to be able to write with a clean and clear mind, which I can share with those around me.”


한글 서예 celebrates the beautiful simplicity of 한글, and Mr. Kwon’s messages are beautifully written. I appreciate the 한글 서예 painting he made for me, which says, “Luck on top of luck”.  My wish for everyone learning Korean, “Luck on top of luck“!
Have you taken a class in 한글 서예? Care to share your experience by posting a comment?

Or, are you interested in learning the art of 한글 서예? Contact your country’s Korean Cultural Center, or check out this link: http://bit.ly/yCpo0p  for a list of books regarding in-depth study of the history and philosophies behind this traditional, yet strikingly modern art form.

In summary, here is a short vocabulary review:

(한글) + calligraphy (서예) = 한글 서예 ;
(transliteration: hangul seoyeh)

A simple sentence:
I like Hangul calligraphy.” = “나는 한글 서예 좋아하다.” ;
(transliteration: “Naneun hangul seoyeh joh-ahada.”)

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11 Responses to “Korean Calligraphy—A Modern Perspective on a Traditional Art Form”

  1. mohamed fawzy 10 May 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    i will be n Korea in December and i will start my life there and i wont to do children creative and recycling and eco art work shops in Korea — and showing my art work – if some one can help me pleas tell me – thanks
    http://www.motopia-art.net motopia art gallery and motopia art culture home mohamed fawzy algammal – motopia +201004330799

  2. Jheng Nasol 27 July 2012 at 9:24 am #

    I studied Korean Calligraphy in Korean Cultural Center last year and that was a very fun experience. I’m not good in drawing but after that class I was able to write sentences in different style and also do some paintings.

  3. calvert o ward 20 August 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    i want to get korean words and how to say them.

  4. Juls Anne 18 September 2012 at 7:06 am #

    I am not good in calligraphy. It is same thing in painting. I guess I am not gifted in handling brushes.

  5. calvert o ward 20 January 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    my problem is understanding the way the words are wrote for each word,in korean. Like this lrla but it sounds like sar to me..guess iam just stupid.

  6. Charlotte Henderson 24 January 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Back in 2000 I was travelling in Seoul. I visited a park there where someone was practising calligraphy and drawing scrolls and he kindly gave me one of them. I have only just got round to having it framed and thought I had better find out what it means before it goes on the wall (or if it’s even the right way up…)!

    Would you be able to help me with this, or know of anyone else who might? Any help would be much appreciated.

    If you let me have an email address I can email you a picture of it.

    with best regards

    Charlotte Henderson

  7. Linda 10 March 2013 at 5:35 am #

    Hi Charlotte, I’d love to help you translate your calligraphy scrolls!

  8. Lee Mee Hyun 7 May 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    좋아하다 is the infinitive, the correct form should be 좋아해요, if you are using unofficial dialect.

  9. Andres Stangl 4 July 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    I appreciate, cause I found exactly what I was looking for. You’ve ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye.

  10. Linda 5 July 2013 at 3:58 am #

    Glad we could help!

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