B1 Intermediate US 66 Folder Collection
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Here in the western world, painting and writing
are in general seen as distinct disciplines

of practice. Although both can be creative
in nature, and there are definitely contemporary

artists who create text based art, in most
of western history - the practice of writing

has never really been a major player in the
visual arts. This is not so much the case

in other parts of the world. For millennia,
as well as today, the art of Calligraphy is

a major artistic practice in many East Asian
countries such as China, Japan, Korea and

Vietnam. Today we're going to focus specifically
on the history of Chinese calligraphy.

Historically, in China, many artists who painted
picturesque scenes would have also been trained

in the art of calligraphy. And artists would
often write lines of poetry or prose along

the sides of painted scenes. In fact, during
some historical periods, painting was often

seen as a secondary practice compared to the
prestigious practice of calligraphy.

The primary reason the visual arts and the
practice of writing are so closely linked

in Chinese culture, is due to the fact that
the written characters themselves are pictograph

based. When one writes a Chinese Character,
they are essentially drawing an abstracted

picture. Thus, through the art of calligraphy,
Chinese writers and poets were not only able

to express their creativity and personality
through the meanings of the words they wrote,

but also in the forms and brushstrokes of
the words themselves.

The Chinese form of writing, often referred
to as “characters” or “ideograms”,

are composed of usually square shaped symbols,
each representing a word or meaning. They

evolved from an ancient pictograph based language
that was abstracted and simplified over time.

For example, during the Chinese Bronze Age,
the Shang dynasty, roughly around 1400 BCE,

the character for horse pretty much looked
like this, over time it was standardized to

fit into the square character ratio, then
it was abstracted even further and the modern

symbol for horse looks like this.
The basic tools that are generally used by
Chinese calligraphers are black ink or ink

sticks, ink stones, brush, traditional calligraphy
paper, and sometimes also a paper weight,

seal and red seal paste. We will cover more
of what the materials are used for as well

as their history in the next episode.
So there are a lot of formal rules regarding
how to properly write a Chinese character

as well as how to used traditional calligraphy
methods - such as how to properly grind the

ink you're using and how to properly hold
a brush. Basically, for every single character,

the stroke has to be written in a particular
sequence. So not only do you have to remember

how to write the thousands of commonly used
Chinese characters, you also have to remember

the sequence the brush strokes go in, for every
single character. Seriously, compared

to that, English class was a breeze.
When writing these words, the creativity and
individual personalities comes from qualities

such as stroke thickness, light and dark contrast,
the amount of ink used, the pressure of the

hand, speed, motion, and the texture of the

It is also takes a lot of practice to learn
proper control of the brush and ink - since

Chinese black ink is a really tricky and medium
to work with. For those of you who haven't

tried to paint with traditional black ink,
you may think oh it shouldn't be that hard

to make a stroke on a piece of paper - but
believe me when I say it's not easy. Most

people's first attempt in using it usually
involves getting ink everywhere, not being

able to make straight lines at all and just
having the ink basically bleed all over the

page. Or maybe it was just me.
So when an artist finishes a calligraphy work,
they would seal it in red, this effectively

acts as a signature. Seals were not only used
by artists, but they were also used by emperors,

courts, families and basically any organization
or person that wanted to identify itself.

Over the years this art form has become more
than just works done on paper. In the early

1990s a small street phenomenon called "Di
Shu", meaning ground calligraphy or street

calligraphy began in a park in Beijing, and
eventually grew into this huge urban phenomenon

that swept through the entire country. It's
where anonymous calligraphers would just show

up in city squares, streets and parks with
these huge brushes and sometimes even mops,

using water as ink, and the pavement as paper,
and would paint huge characters, words, poems

and other literary works right on the ground.
Creating these beautiful and ephemeral performances

of linguistic and visual expression.
Some of you may ask - is it possible to appreciate
Chinese calligraphy without knowing how to

read Chinese? I certainly think so. I think
anyone can appreciate they beauty of the stunning

linework, the sharp and bold black strokes,
contrasted with glistening red seals. Appreciating

the style, meticulousness and control of a
calligraphic stroke is in a way very similar

to appreciating the brushstrokes of an impressionist
painting. You may not read Chinese, but we

can all read picture.
So can you think of other examples of creative
uses of words or languages in visual art?

Whether it's eastern art or western art.
Let me know in the comments.

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What is Chinese Calligraphy? Pt 1: History | ARTiculations

66 Folder Collection
Li Rose published on June 12, 2019
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