Friday, November 22, 2013

A Thesis= a crazily exhausting but fulfilling project near completion!

So many of you have expressed interest in my thesis! I was actually pleasantly surprised by this curiosity, because whenever I've brought it up in conversation, it seems like people don't really want to hear about it. So I'm happy that at least a select few of you ROCKIN intellectual-types would like to know about my big project!

You could say this has been 'the year of the thesis' for me. Well actually, I started gathering sources in 2012, but since the writing and research began in 2013, we'll just say it has been a project for this year. I had a wide open field for selecting a topic: Art History. Anything I wanted to do, so long as I got approval and found a professor willing to mentor the topic. Knowing my passion for Asia, and Korea in particular, it was not a hard choice to narrow it down to Korean art. And since, comparatively, very few publications are available on Korean art, I had many options here too. I eventually selected the topic of pungsokhwa (풍속화) (trans. genre painting) for completely self-interested reasons: I like the art and I knew I wouldn't get tired of it even if I spent countless hours looking at it. Plus, I wanted to know more! After months of initial research, I finally selected a more focused perspective for the 60-page Thesis (which actually ended up being an 84-page Thesis in the end, but who's counting? :) Are you ready? Want to know? Here it is:


Basically, one chapter breaks down the disparity between the idealized depictions of traditional women and the struggles they faced in reality. Another chapter does the same thing for idealized depictions of kisaeng (courtesans), and then the final chapter delves into what the two kinds of idealizations reveal about shifting values in late 18th century Joseon society. Intriguing, right? 
Just to share some of my favorite lines (and to give an idea of the content of the arguments contained in the thesis):

"by idealizing women the lack of ideal in the juxtaposed yangban stands out with greater clarity...The contrast of innocent women with indecency of the yangban amplifies the impropriety of the voyeur, chafing against Confucian ideals"
"I would argue that Shin Yun-bok is not critical of the moral lifestyle of the yangban, only of their hypocrisy in condemning what they clearly indulge. There is a difference between criticizing yangban for their decadence and criticizing them for their duplicity. While both imply corruption, one assumes that the behavior is inherently immoral while the other assumes the double standard is immoral." 
"In art, traditional women are revered as ideals of virtue, honor, and sacrifice while kisaeng women are desired as ideals of talent, beauty, and sensuality, each woman receiving merit according to her ability to fulfill the feminine ideal determined by her role." 
"...the manner in which these ideals were applied differently to indict the perceived wrongs in society...highlights shifting demonstrating the widening chasm between the entrenched Confucian government struggling to maintain its hegemony and the world of materialism increasingly finding a foothold in Joseon society."

Here is just a sampling of the images I used (because I'm feeling 'lazy' today, I'm not going to include the full reference data here, just the title):

 Yun Yong, Namul kaeneun anak (Woman Harvesting Herbs).

Shin Yun-bok. Aeigi Oebneun Oemma (Mother Carrying Child)

 Kim Hong-do, Bballaeteo (Washing by a Stream)

 Shin Yun-bok, Juyu cheonggang (A Barge Scene on a River)

 Shin Yun-bok. Nyeonso Dapcheong (Amorous Youths on a Picnic)

Shin Yun-bok, Miindo (Beauty)

Kim Hong-do, Oomulga (The Well)
Translating Korean research into English was daunting in most cases, but honestly enjoyable for the above painting! It was fun and funny to read what had been written about the "depraved" and "crazy" yangban with his robes unfastened!

The exciting thing is that I really enjoyed the topic and never grew tired of learning about it. The less-than-exciting thing is that it was really hard work, time consuming, physically and mentally exhausting (to make adequate time for the research and writing, I used nap time for working on my thesis instead of exercising. The lack of exercise has taken its toll-- not least among the fallout results are the muscle aches and back pain from sitting and typing so much. And talk about insomnia flare-ups!), and I even wondered if it was really worth it to me. Credit goes to Eric for not letting me quit so near the finish line!

The most recent exciting thing is that I've officially submitted it to the program office for circulation in committee! Mailed it in today! Which means it is in their hands for a little while until I get revision suggestions from all the committee members. I'm really close to being finished, though the end goal is still months away. Too early to celebrate (we're saving the big celebration for when it is fully approved, submitted to the University library for publishing and binding, and I am awarded my Master's degree), but I'm truly happy to be finished with the bulk of the work. What's left is basically minor editing. I'm feeling pretty confident that the committee will fully approve of the content--which may be a hasty assumption!--but I really think it is quality work and I don't anticipate any huge revision requests. My mentor said it was fantastic, so I'm hoping the entire committee agrees!

And for those of you that have helped me over the past 5 years of getting my Master's... you're probably mentioned in my acknowledgements page! Hooray for being so close to completion!


  1. You're the bomb, honey! I love you!!

  2. hey congrats! i have to say, the excerpts sounded great! your vocabulary is so much better than mine; 5 years away from college has not enhanced mine, that's for sure! But congrats! the end is in sight, and you've done a great job! :) and eric's right: you ARE the bomb!

  3. Did you serve your mission in Korea? I'm so glad you finally posted about your thesis! I may be nerdy, but I geek out on that stuff. Yep, I'm nerdy. :) I think gender politics is a really interesting avenue of study and it's awesome that you went that direction with this genre art. I enjoyed reading these excerpts; it seems you arrived at some compelling conclusions. You sparked the thought for me that in our society we peasant women are expected to maintain the image of courtesans (aka Hollywood), while doing all of our daily tasks. The ideals have perhaps merged to form the mother of all unrealistic expectations. No pun intended.

    Anyway, congrats on accomplishing so much! I'm a fan of yours :)

  4. Hooray hooray hooray! It's such a wonderful thing to accomplish, I remember the feeling of exhaustion and elation! What an INTERESTING topic, I'm sure it will be approved and circulated! Congrats!

  5. Awesome!! What a great topic, and that's so great that you were able to do something you didn't get tired of learning about. It almost makes me want to think about getting my Masters... :)

  6. Congratulations! I'm so proud of you!