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The modern concept of ending a marriage out of the mutual wishes of both husband and wife was unheard of in China until 1922, when the first Western-style divorce occurred between a woman named Chang Yu-i and the famous poet Hsu Chih-mo. Before that, when a marriage ended, the husband always left the wife for one or more reasons, called the Qi Chu (七出), the “Seven Outs”:

  1. She disobeyed his parents
  2. She could not bear him sons
  3. She committed adultery
  4. She acted jealous and was unwilling to take in a concubine
  5. She were repulsively sick
  6. She talked too much
  7. She committed theft

The wife became so disgraced afterwards that her only options were prostitution, nunnery, or suicide. The first Western divorce caused by lack of love was so scandalous that it remained a popular topic of gossip for years. Chang Yu-i never discussed the matter with her parents, and they never directly acknowledged it. Even to their deaths, they retained this shame-induced silence.

Until the past few years, failure of marriage was still regarded with shame in China; increasing Westernization of the country has alleviated traditional expectations for marriage, and the divorce rate now stands at about 21% (still less than half of what it is in the U.S.). Divorce and separation continue, however, to go unacknowledged by people with more traditional values – people such as my family.

My parents have been separated now for about eight years, but we have never discussed this with each other, much less our extended family. My grandparents don’t even know – they just assume my parents are still living under the same roof. I wrote the following piece in an effort to understand what my family refuses to discuss, and deal with the ever increasing disconnect from my father that resulted from the separation.

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“This is natural enough, as the picture lives only through the man who is looking at it.” This is a quote from Pablo Picasso who created a revolution to the world. He may be inspirational but more importantly he is my mentor. When I was raised in S. Korea, many people criticized Picasso for his overrated artist who created works of art which anyone possibly could create. It was hard to believe Picasso’s essence of art because people rather visualize his work than picturing the idea behind it. By profoundly studying his experiences, paintings, and philosophy, he allowed me to open my visionary mind of art which helped me to escape from my restricted cultural background.
Before I discuss about my cultural identity, I want to share my personal meaning of art. I believe the essence and the definition of art is “emotion.” In our today’s perspective of art, everything we see today such as nature, buildings, clothes, and even a piece of an empty water bottle is defined as art. This is due to the affection of the emotion. Emotion causes a physical object to become a subjective idea. Without the emotion, an object such as an empty water bottle is what it is. The water bottle can be defined as a thin layer of plastic material usually formed in cylinder shape. If the emotion invades the logic, it can be defined as soulless that have lost hope in its existence. The subjective meaning can vary by persons by their emotion and causes diverse aesthetic tastes. By their nature of emotion, people choose their personal path which can lead to many different lives. This obviously happens when creating a piece of work. Their decisions to plan and make is the cause of emotion and the outcome of the work is the outcome of the emotion. When the viewer reads the painting,  it triggers the emotion to react in personal ways. The emotion paints the visualization and the visualization paints the emotion. The work of art is not only viewed as the degree of technique but also as an emotional response. However the view of technique can be affected by the emotion but the purpose of work of art is how the viewer’s emotion responds to artist’s emotion that is hidden behind the work. This is my purpose of art. A work of art lives only through the viewer and every life and objects is made to that purpose. People who create works of art do not define them as an only artist but anyone being able to personally interpret the work of art defines them as an artist. Many students in S. Korea have well-built techniques, but lack in ideal and personal interpretation of art. This is one of the problems my culture is facing and this will continue on for future generations due to their strict mind set as well as the fixed art system in S. Korean Art community. These students are potential and ambitious but did not acknowledge to understand the hidden world of art. They considered “excellent techniques” as “good art” and it is true for every artist to consider. However innovations and revolutions does not come from technical elements, but from extensive explorations. Picasso was an excellent technical artist, but his success came from his ideal vision. He traveled beyond the boundaries of visual restrictions and found the treasures of new ideas that have opened up the new visions to the world. This is the element my culture has forgotten and people from all over the world including, Artists, professors, students are traveling to S. Korea and other foreign countries to take action against this problematic condition. This is one of the valuable understanding every artist should be aware of and should take action toward their culture. I as an MICA student, as well as an important individual Artist, will take this opportunity as a chance to bring new idea of art to S. Korea, including countries where they lack the appreciation of true nature of art. Picasso was successful because he has worked toward the subjective idea and his task of bringing new idea to the world. Before you wonder off, ask yourself, what is “your” definition of Art?

by Albert Young-Chan Kim

1st Year Undergraduate at Maryland Institute College of Art

Student Artist and Microcosm member

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We’re Artists meeting and talking with other Artists. Our interest is the Asian diaspora, and its farflung influences–and on the other hand, how Asian Culture and Arts have been influenced by the inter-culturalistic points its met in its travels. Tune in on Sundays for Microcosm’s regular goodness, and throughout the week for special surprises.
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