The arts of Korea have traditionally been characterized by their natural simplicity. In their design and decoration, many early Korean ceramics, lacquer, and metal artifacts reveal cultural interactions with China, as well as with Japan, Scythia, and Siberia. During the Three Kingdoms period (ca. 57 B.C.–A.D. 668) Buddhism entered the northern kingdom of Koguryo in A.D. 372 and spread to the southern kingdoms of Paekche and Silla. Buddhism retained a major influence over the arts until the fifteenth century.
The Silla, with the aide of the Chinese Tang dynasty, succeeded in defeating the rival kingdoms, ushering in the period of the Unified Silla (668–935). The art of the Unified Silla was greatly influenced by Tang styles. A new naturalistic style of sculpture was adopted that reached a zenith in the eighth century with the granite sculptures at Sokkuram.
Art of the Koryo period (918–1392) was influenced by Chinese Song dynasty (960–1279) styles and Neo-Confucianism, but Buddhism remained a central force. Porcelain with a distinctive celadon glaze was produced, and Korean potters developed the unique technique of inlaid celadon between the mid-twelfth and mid-thirteenth centuries. In late Koryŏ, outstanding inlaid lacquerware using a polish-expose technique, bronzes, and mirrors were created.
The Choson (Yi) period (1392–1910) saw a renewal of the arts in parallel with an emphasis on Neo-Confucianism. The arts reveal a more native, spontaneous decorative approach. Surviving architecture includes the Kyongbok Palace in Seoul. Early in the period, paintings imitated Chinese academic styles, but later a more natural literati style developed in imitation of Wu School models from Ming dynasty China. Pottery and porcelain flourished during the Choson period. In the fifteenth century, white porcelain became popular for daily use as well as for Confucian rites and ancestor worship. In the late Choson period, Western and Japanese influences increased. Japanese occupation (1910–1945) had a profound impact, and after 1945 new international styles increasingly infiltrated.