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How To Read Eastern Art
Price per Unit (piece): KRW 30,000
USD 22.76
Author: Chou Yongjin
Publisher: Jimoondang
Pub. Date: Feb 2018
Pages: 276
Dimensions (in inches): 7.9 x 8.7 x 0.7
ISBN: 9788962971873
Language: English
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This book explains the principles underlying traditional East Asian paintings and provides a roadmap for better understanding those artworks. In the East, men of letters were the main producers and consumers of art; they equated paintings with poems that had to be deciphered. The author relies on his training as an anatomist and his extensive knowledge of Chinese classics to identify and classify recurrent subject matters and to extract their respective meanings. He translates these objects into a lexicon that can be used to communicate specific messages.

Chou Yongjin

After majoring in traditional East Asian art at the College of Fine Arts and Graduate School of Fine Arts, Hongik University, Chou Yongjin studied human anatomy for 7 years at the School of Medicine of the Catholic University of Korea, and subsequently received a doctoral degree in fine arts from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (now Tokyo University of the Arts). He has taught at various institutions (Kunsan National University, Seoul National University of Education, and Hanseo University) and has been giving talks about his ongoing research on art history, and its links to neuroscience and physiognomy. He is Director of the Korean Phenotype and Culture Institute.


Chapter 1 Questions That Cross Our Minds as We View Eastern Paintings
Irrational details
Paintings with the same format
Events that did not take place in the real world
Art is a cultural compact
Appreciation of Eastern art should begin with an Eastern approach
Eastern paintings are for reading
A lone heron on a pond with a withered lotus is a typical example of art-reading
The forgotten principles of art-reading

Chapter 2 Homophony-based Reading
Distortion of the magpie and the tiger
It should be a pine tree, a magpie, and a leopard in the painting
Countless examples equating homophony with synonymy
Mere homophony is sufficient
A trend especially pronounced in ideogram systems like the Eastern culture
Why pair the crab with reeds?
Two crabs holding reed flowers in their mouths
White deer paired with Chinese juniper
Spelling longevity (壽) with a Chinese juniper
Writing longevity (壽) in 16 different ways
The reason for pairing the bamboo with rocks
So long as we are drawing a bamboo, let us draw a Phyllostachys edulis
What is an autumn cricket doing on a summer orchid?
The creepy bat signifies fortune
Reeds and wild geese symbolize a comfortable old age
Cat paintings congratulate someone who just turned 70
Cat-and-butterfly pairings
A cat next to chrysanthemums
Owl paintings with the same congratulatory meaning
The ingrained belief in the power of language or letters
The act of sedition by National Academy (成均館) students under King Sejo
Bookcase paintings in the study

Chapter 3 Allegorical Reading
The winter bird mandarin duck on a pond in July
The contents of the Five Blessings, revised in Tang China
Guo Ziyi and his many descendants
Pomegranate paintings denote a wish for many sons
Peony paintings stand for wealth and nobility
The Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms is responsible for the mistaken belief that peonies are odorless
Peonies were painted without butterflies as early as the Tang Dynasty
Queen Seondeok was unaware of the principles of art-reading
The iconography of Hanafuda
Pairings of peonies and a rooster
Peonies with a vase
A pine tree, bamboo, and a pair of white-headed birds
Peonies and plum blossoms do not bloom at the same time
Crane paintings
A crane with a pine tree
A crane by the rolling sea
The pine and the lingzhi mushroom
The lingzhi mushroom means, ‘to have one’s wish realized’
Most paintings of vessels with cut branches (器皿折枝圖) express a wish for happiness in this life
The rose is a symbol of youth
The peach should be painted green
Donfang Shuo (東方朔) of the three thousand jia and the peach
It is incorrect to draw Dongfang Shuo as a grizzled old man holding a peach
The ugly black crested myna denotes filial piety
Goldfish paintings convey the message, ‘May gold and jade fill your home!’
Lotus paintings encourage a thrifty lifestyle
Chrysanthemum paintings symbolize longevity
It is wrong to pair the chrysanthemum with multiflora rose hips
Seeking meaning in objects is a cognitive attribute specific to humans
Finding meaning in the shape or biology
Art-reading principles may sometimes restrict artistic expression
Minnows and duckweed
Why draw the carp in twos?
Minnows, duckweed, carp, water pepper, lotuses, mandarin ducks, wild geese, and reeds

Chapter 4 Reading Art by Invoking Classical Quotes or Anecdotes
Pictures were also used in the pursuit of spiritual values
The moral of The Three Hibernal Friends concerns the society of good friends
Flowers from all four seasons in the same painting
Even paintings of foot-bathing mean something
If the water of the Canglang is clean …
The reason scholars adopted the character 滄 in their pen names
The Four Books and the Three Classics at work even in palatial architecture
The patterns shaped like the calyx of a persimmon were inspired by the Classic of Poetry (詩經)
Paintings of three fish belong in the study
Qi Baishi’s message in his painting of three fish
Paintings of nine fish
“Long live the homeland” (江山萬代)
Nine quails
Quails stand for comfort and peace
Fish idling about
Nine herons
The foremost consideration(s)
Art criticism in the East
The Four Grades
A boy pointing at a mountain shrouded in clouds
Scene of an old man fishing
Painting of a middle-aged man fishing
The Eight Anecdotes
Ear Bath in the Yingchuan
Painting of four old men playing Go
Sailboat against an autumnal backdrop
Staring at Nanshan leaning against a pine tree
Pointing at wild geese in flight
Admiring a waterfall
Standing on a bridge on a donkey’s back as a blizzard howls
With the plum blossom as wife, and the crane as son
Painting as another medium depicting the ideals of Eastern scholars

Chapter 5 How To Appreciate Contemporary Korean Art
How to appreciate contemporary Korean art
Eastern art and Western art are fundamentally different
Western artists paint as they see, whereas Eastern artists recorded what was
Art criticism in the East versus the West
Paintings that are read do not exist in Europe
What every Korean artist longs for
The factors that have landed Korean painting in its current quandary
The fundamental problem of Eastern art in Korea?a dead end
Twenty years later: The artistic community in Korea today
Five requisites for the establishment of Korean art


Selected Publications
Bulsang gyecheukbeop (The Measurement of Buddhist Icons). Seoul: Seongui Chulpansa, 1979.
Seoyanghwa ingneun beop (How to Read Western Art). Seoul: Sagyejeol, 1997.
Eolgul: Hangugin ui nat (The Korean Face). Seoul: Sagyejeol, 1999.
Uri mom gwa misul (The Human Body and Fine Arts). Seoul: Sagyejeol, 2001.


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