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He Who Tries to Travel Two Roads
He Who Tries to Travel Two Roads, 2001
Son Man Jin, Korean
Ink on paper; mounted as eight hanging scrolls
Image: 6 feet 10 1/4 inches x 18 feet 3/4 inches (208.9 x 550.5 cm) Mount: 8 feet 9 inches x 18 feet 7 inches (266.7 x 566.4 cm)
Purchased with funds contributed by Frank S. Bayley, 2001
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About This Painting

Almost eight feet high and nineteen feet long, this large painting is composed of eight smaller paintings, each created on a sheet of long, white paper and then mounted vertically as a hanging scroll. Across these eight sheets of paper, contemporary Korean artist Son Man Jin has painted in large Chinese characters, "He who tries to travel two roads at once will arrive nowhere."
In the bottom left corner, an inscription written in much smaller characters reads, "In the year of 2001, early autumn under the south facing window of my house named 'white cloud' Son Man Jin wrote." The painting's large scale and bold, almost abstract brushstrokes anchor it firmly in the twenty-first century. The materials, techniques, and subject matter, however, reflect the artist's training and deep interest in ancient artistic and literary traditions of Korea and China.

The saying is a quotation from a Chinese Confucian text, written sometime between 300 and 230 BCE. Traditional Korean scholars mastered such Confucian texts as part of their education. Also part of a scholar's training was the art of calligraphy—writing the Chinese language using black ink and brushes on paper. Even after Korea’s own alphabetic writing system, Han’gul, was invented in 1446, most Korean calligraphers, including Son Man Jin, continued to use Chinese characters.

A master calligrapher gives a unique shape to each of his brushstrokes. He or she must create a visual balance between the black characters and the white, empty space. Can you find the six Chinese characters that make up the saying?

Remember to read from right to left .

This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: Korea, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.

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