The Arts and Literature

Koreans express themselves with music, dance, drama and art. In many areas of Korean culture, there are two levels of art. These reflect Korean noble and Korean folk societal structures. Today both are recognized as having equal value.

For example, the music chong-ak is for the noble class and sog-ak is for the common people. Chong-ak is slow and serious and was performed at court. Sog-ak is livelier and vibrant and touches on people's emotions. Sog-ak includes shamanistic and Buddhist music, folk songs and dramatic music. As in every culture, there exists a youth culture. Young Koreans enjoy western pop music.

Traditional dance, like music, is divided into court and folk dance. Sujech-on or banquet music is one of the oldest and largest categories of court music. Believed to be 1300 years old, it accompanies court dances. The Korean Culture and Dance Foundation sponsors three dance festivals every year. Dancers from folk and classical backgrounds are encouraged to participate. In the early 1980s, the Korean government attempted to revive lost or forgotten traditional dances. The government has declared these to be intangible cultural properties, and the dancers, "human cultural treasures."

Korea is famous for its ceramics. Korean ceramics always portray nature and use soft colours. Earthenware was first made in Korea during prehistoric times. Glazes were first used from 57 BC to 935 AD. Koryo potters developed a unique way of creating their work that cannot be duplicated today. Pottery and ceramics from the Choson dynasty are known for their thickness, shape and colour. Today, the Ceramic Art Village in Ich-on near Seoul is trying to revive and further develop various types of traditional pottery.

Early Korean literature was heavily influenced by Shamanism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Early literature began as an oral tradition and its themes were love of nature, good and evil and rewards and punishments. Some of the earliest Korean writings are poems called hyanggav. They were phonetically Korean, but were written with Chinese characters. Today only 25 hyangga exist. Modern Korean writers frequently focus on themes of social justice and the effects of industrialization. Poetry and short stories are more popular forms of literature than the novel.