Chinese Modern Calligraphy
What is Chinese Modern Calligraphy?
When we consider Chinese modern calligraphy, the usual images which come to mind consist of old parchment paper, slightly ripped at its edges, alongside a jar of ink which often drips down as the quill carries it over for writing. For the most part, calligraphy is dubbed as a typographic art form and never considered to be created in tandem with visual art.
For the generations preceding modern China, calligraphy had different esteem in society as a whole. It was considered to be one of the four components in the Chinese literati, and as equally important to master for one to integrate themselves in high society. Scholars predominantly used calligraphic lettering to publish their ideologies and practices while military and social elites needed to have a firm understanding of this art form to assume important roles.
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Yet, what was it about calligraphic art for it to be held in such high regard in pre-historic China, and furthermore, why is it important for us today? Most art historians would argue that Chinese painting, and particularly calligraphic art, was critical in shaping the country’s society and culture. The works curated by famous artists, with the likes of Zhao Mengu, Mi Fu, and Zhu Yunming, enable us to read and understand their psychology and philosophies.
In short, calligraphy art produces an inner look into the deepest parts of the human mind, one which science can’t reach.
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The Development of Chinese Calligraphy
Back in ancient China, the writing was mostly done in pictorial formats. This included logograms, where every word or phrase would maintain a certain diagram or symbol attributed to its meaning.
Ideally, what was created as an abstract form of writing. People with little understanding of these logographs were restricted in comprehending Chinese literature and only the elites and learned could manufacture proper understanding of these ‘characters.’ This is how calligraphy came to be a dignified form of art in China.
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Soon enough, people judged calligraphy work on the same standards as Chinese paintings. Meticulous brushwork, uniform structure and proper depiction of character were a few considerations for the calligraphic art to be respected and admired. Other than the physical structure, the moral context greatly influenced the nature of the calligraphy painting as well.
While traditional writing carries structure such as grammar and definition, Chinese calligraphy is dynamic in its meaning. It is both equivocal and straightforward, where each character has a specific denotation while also harnessing a metaphorical element. Unlike traditional alphabets, Chinese logograms become manifestations of the things they intend to describe. This brings about a whole new layer of meaning to the art, making it truly a unique form of writing.
Tools and Technique
Medieval forms of Chinese calligraphy varied in scripts and styles. The earliest calligraphic work, for instance, was carved on turtle shells and animal bones – a form that was aptly given the name of oracle bone script. During the 7th century, the regular script was invented, and soon enough, artists and scholars began adapting their calligraphy using traditional ink and paper.
Before setting on their work, an artist needed to grind up an inkstone, releasing powdered carbon as the base ingredient for the ink. They would then, have to mix the powder with water in order to create an ink solution.
Once the solution was made, they would dip their brushes in to create their first stroke on paper. It is typical for the brush to be made out of animal hair as it offers greater flexibility and smoothness in performing strokes.
There are a number of different script paper used throughout history. In the Zhou dynasty, the seal script was prevalently used while the Qin dynasty adopted this particular script as its official paper. The clerical script came into existence right after the seal script and was followed by regular, running, and cursive scripts. Each script maintains a specialized style of brushwork and artistic execution, which is why one can be favored over another.
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The Ancient Styles
During the reign of Confucius, people in the government alongside scholars and educated individuals were devoted practitioners in the art of calligraphy. Some of these writings can still be found on historical structures and museums.
Yet, the most prominent age for calligraphic art was perhaps in the 4th century. A writer and politician, Wang Xizhi and his son were joint enforcers in bringing a new calligraphic style called the Kaishu style. This was adopted by their followers and even today, has many professional calligraphers imitating the style.
As far as the development of calligraphic style goes, the Kaishu style still remains the most popular and vastly used in the modern age. The reason for this can also be attributed to the overall flexibility and ease with which the calligraphy can be made. Wang Xizhi was the inventor of the running script, otherwise known as xingshu. This is an arrangement of writing in which words can be attached to each other while painting, making it easier for the artist to draw without having to endure ink splatters or breaks in movement.
In the age of digital media, the ancient art of calligraphy has partly lost its vitality. Unlike the olden times where learning calligraphy was critical for one to associate with the elite society, it is no longer the case for important men and women to learn this form of art.
Calligraphy was also a distinctive trait retained by scholars in ancient times, but this has also become an obsolete feature. But, does this mean Chinese calligraphy has turned into a dying art form?
Despite how sparsely it is used in the modern age, calligraphy is still one of the most critical weapons yielded by contemporary artists and writers all over the world. Even in the 20thcentury, artists such as Xu Bing and Wang Dongling have created art pieces that were highly revered in modern society.
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Calligraphy might have turned into a slightly abandoned form of art, but there’s no denying that it is one of the most intricate and expressive artistic techniques in history. While most painters are armed with color and diagrams, calligraphy revels in the simpler version of art – the one where you only have an ink bottle, a parched script, and your imagination.
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