In the early 1970s, contemporary Korean artists were undergoing a period of serious experimentation. Going beyond the traditional questions of “What do I paint and how”, they tirelessly asked themselves, “Why must I paint?”, “What is painting?”, and “What is the spiritual essence of Korea?” It was in this process of soul-searching that the truest form of Korean contemporary art was born: Dansaekhwa.
This revolutionary new form was highly influenced by minimalism-where artistic techniques and dramatizations are minimized, focusing only on the essence of the object-and conceptual art, which emphasizes the immaterial. In traditional art forms, the most important consideration is the end product, the “artwork” produced, no matter the process or motivation of rendering such art. Conceptual art rejects such traditional notions, seeing the idea or process of creation as art in and of itself, rather than focusing on the resulting piece. In addition to this creative and non-material attitude of conceptual art, another influence on Dansaekhwa was the Eastern spiritual legacy. One interesting aspect of Eastern art is that it was traditionally used as a means for self-cultivation. Ancient scholars of the East sought to develop themselves through painting or calligraphy, similar to disciplining oneself through martial arts or meditation. For Korean Dansaekhwa artists, painting was at once a spiritual, conceptual experiment and form of self-cultivation, going beyond the simple artistic act of turning materials into artworks.
Dansaekhwa is an artistic style unique to Korea, born out of an amalgamation of the material aspect of minimalism, the psychological aspect of conceptual art, and the self-cultivation culture of the East. It was more than an artistic technique, it was a philosophy. The works introduced at the Ascetic Path: Korean DANSAEKHWA showcase the introspection and practices of the pioneers of Korean contemporary art, as they sought to establish a new art form based on the Eastern and national archetypes.