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Calligraphy Contest Tainted by Irregularities

Posted July. 03, 2003 21:59,   


The police recently discovered that bribes were secretly given for the winning prizes in a national calligraphy contest and exhibition by Korean artists organized respectively by the Korea Calligraphy Association and Korea Calligrapher Association. Apparently this is nothing new to people in the art field. They all say that art, which should be the outcome of hard work by artists, have been riddled with money rather than art skills.

Contest for money, not calligraphy

Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency sought arrest warrants Thursday for the director of the Korea Calligraphy Association and four others. The suspects allegedly received bribes from certain applicants and awarded prizes to those individuals. Judges for the awards and 19 participants were charged without detention.

The police said the director and chief of the organizing committee for the Best Calligraphy in Korea Contest was charged for taking 5 million won and being treated with expensive dinners from his student in 1999 in return for his calligraphy work. He also awarded the student a prize in the contest. The director also allegedly received illegal funds amounting to 41 million won from 1997 to 2002 in return for framing contracts of awarded calligraphy work.

The director of Korea Calligrapher Association currently faces similar charges. The director, also a judge in the contest organized by the association, allegedly had received 46 million won since 1996 from 10 participants in calligraphy contests instead of those participants.

The problem is this kind of bribery scandal over contests is nothing new. In July 1993, the Seoul District Prosecutor`s Office arrested 10 people from the Korea Calligraphy Association on similar charges. Also, four other people were arrested for winning prizes having used other people`s work in a calligraphy contest organized by the Korean Fine Arts Association.

The path to being a professional calligrapher

A substandard review process for selecting award winners is one reason for the bribery scandal in these contests. Awards from contests bring money and fame to calligraphy artists, and is one of the only ways for recognition as a professional calligraphy artist.

The Korea Calligraphy Association assigns 1, 3, 4 and 5 points to award winners according to the level of prizes while the Korea Calligrapher Association assigns 1, 4, 5 and 7 points.

If a calligrapher receives a total of ten points through award winnings, he is qualified to become a professional calligrapher and is given the honor of being a judge in contests. In addition, the Association pays for his lectures and exhibitions. The status of professional calligraphers is critical for attracting a larger number of students. This kind of money and fame that comes with winning awards provides fertile ground for the temptation of bribery scandals.

There are also other problems. Third grade applicants must draw calligraphy in the presence of judges while fourth grade applicants only have to submit their calligraphy.

“Judges cannot know for sure the original source of calligraphy from fourth grade applicants. Famous artists are often paid to draw calligraphy for contest participants,” said an insider in the field.

Another problem in calligraphy contests is that 20 percent of art work is always given prizes. In the Best Calligraphy in Korea Contest, more than 20 percent out of 2000 applicants are awarded every year. Calligraphy exhibitions from Korean artists award as many as 665 people out of 1858 applicants. All this generous award giving is intended to increase profit for the associations. The more applicants that participate, the more money organizers make as 40,000 to 50,000 won per one person is submitted to organizations.

The owner of the online calligraphy shop said that all problems came from the longstanding practice in which all the fame was given to artists who won prizes in the various contests being held. He said that is why many calligraphers seeking notoriety are willing to do anything to receive awards in contests, at any cost.

Jin-Goo Lee sys1201@donga.com