Software before Hardware

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The great writer of Japanese modern literature, Natsume Souseki, once commented on Meiji Isshin (massive westernization and industrialization) after he came back from UK: “What we are doing now is merely copying west’s looks and appearance.  This will not work in long-term.  Rather, Japan should first start from learning and imitating their thoughts, such as healthy individualism and citizenship.  That will mark the true, productive and healthy westernization of Japan.”

I am not trying to say “OMG he made a prophesy of busted bubble economy and gloom future of Japan!”  (Kind of, maybe?)  But the situation I had today made me think about the abovewritten quotation.

I went to a special docent art tour with my mom.  Though I appreciated her invitation and thinking of me, I was not that excited initially (turned out better later on).  If it wasn’t the exhibition of Park Su-geun‘s work, I would be much less excited.  But I went anyway – it’s better than sitting around in my room (especially when I have nothing to do) and I know my mom really wanted to go.  She could not find someone to go with her.

There were loads of people in the gallery, and I was totally fine with it.  I understand Park and his works are very popular in Korea.   His works are considered as one of the most “Korean” paintings.  His painting is on Korean art textbook.  You can not not know him if you went proper public education in Korea.  ‘Nuff said.   Of course everyone wants to see his work, especially his paintings don’t do justice on digital copies or photo.  I also do not mind random people trying to join this customized docent tour.  It’s an open space.  Moreover, it is always helpful to have a guide who can explain the artwork and provide some background stories, so the viewers can have better understanding of the work.  I have been in that position, too.

However, I do mind – VERY – some things in museum or art gallery: talking in loud voice, talking on the phone, and not silencing damn cell. Unfortunately, there are just so many of these people in Korea.  Last time I visited the National Museum at Yongsan,  I was stunned for several minutes.  People were talking so loudly in every single exhibition room.  I couldn’t tell whether I’m in a shopping mall or museum.  It was my day off but I couldn’t enjoy my time off.  Since everyone was talking so loudly, I just wanted to finish up looking at the exhibitions and leave, so I can take my quality time.  Same thing happened in last year’s South American art exhibition.  Everyone was talking.  The gallery was old colonial building with high ceiling, making it even louder.  Steve McCurry‘s photo exhibition was same.  First 30 minute was okay.  Then everyone was talking again.  About 4 old men are talking loudly whether McCurry used digital color adjustment or not, and on the other side two young people are (again) talking loudly, asking “hey, do you want to check out that documentary film?”  On my way to exit,  I saw two girls actually pressing their fingers on the glass frame.  I saw at least two people who are talking on the phone.  Let’s not forget the gallery space was full of human voices.  George Rouault‘s was alright.  Everyone was quiet, except a kid who would scream his questions to his parents with audio explanation on and one old lady answering her phone pretty loudly.  Andy Warhol exhibition was pretty bad – since there were so many people already (talking), the docent was using a loudspeaker in the gallery.  All of sudden, the gallery was turned into seafood market.

Today’s Park exhibition was no better.  I saw at least two girls who would casually flip open their cell and talk.  An old man in our tour group did not silenced his phone nor turned it off.  So in the middle of gallery, his phone was ringing loudly.  Twice.  And that many people were all talking in open space, in their normal voice, where the sound is amplified.  Our docent had quiet voice, but I bet it could have been audible if the gallery was as quiet as MoMA.  But it’s not MoMA.  We both gave up listening to her explanation.  We were so tired after the tour – all that people AND noise.

It’s good that people are eager to analyze the art and exchange each other’s opinion on it.  But please, take your passion outside.  You don’t have to talk about it now, with your normal talking voice, in the gallery.  If you have to, then just turn down your voice volume.  And, if you have to answer your phone, take it outside or answer it later.  Give some space to others to observe, digest and wrap it up in relaxation!  I like going art exhibitions because its quietness give me a mental/physical space to be myself, think and forget all bs.  I still go to exhibitions in Korea, but I am much more hesitant than before due to the people noise and population.  Usually I get annoyed, or feel pressure to finish up my viewing as soon as possible and leave.

Few years ago, several news articles started to lament how Korean are living “uncultured life” – like going to art exhibitions, classical music concerts, etc.  Then there was sudden boom of living the “cultured life.”  The exhibitions of big-name artists opened in Korea.  The schools now require students to go to museums or art galleries, and write a short paper on it.  So now it is easy to see loads of youngsters in artsy events, unlike past.  Sure, they are much more exposed to great artworks.  But as I see many of these kids are just busy copying off little facts for their homework rather than what they appreciated and what they felt, kids running and screaming around, and parents doing the same thing, I can’t help thinking of Natsume’s quote.  What is more important?  Sending the kids to the big-name art exhibitions and making sure they bring a “proof” of their visit, or educate them how to behave and what to appreciate, even though not all students can go to exhibition or even lie about their visit?  I don’t know.  But I think there are still plenty of viewers coming to the exhibition just so they can take lots of pics, upload it on blog, say they went to Warhol exhibition – and therefore presenting themselves as a cool. cultured person.

Georges Rouault

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