In China and Japan realistic paintings were literally a taboo, and even considered vulgar, as creations bleached of any sophistication. It is believed that if one seeks in art (especially painting or calligraphy) a reflection of the real world, he has the insight of a child.
In modern times nations inhabiting the Earth are becoming one, exchange of information is instant, and cultures blend. Only recently do we see western art depicting the world as it has being accepted by Oriental aesthetics, with an appreciation for the abstract nature of reality, though still with some reserve.
Famous words of brilliant landscape painter Shi Tao (石涛1642-1710) of the Qing dynasty (清朝, 1644 - 1912) laid the foundation for modern Chinese calligraphy aesthetics. He said that “the ink should follow the times”. Still, it was not until the 20th century that Chinese calligraphy started to deviate rather drastically from the classical rigid approach.
The first person who absolutely revolutionised Chinese calligraphy was Lu Weizhao (陆维钊1899-1980) who was deeply influenced by Picasso, and vice versa. He introduced a new approach to writing lines and the way that characters are proportioned, which led to new ways of expressing artist’s feelings and strong emotions. By intentional exaggeration of strokes, stretching character form, or redesigning white space around characters new intriguing aesthetics have been achieved.
Another well-known technique is using different shades of ink, just as it is done in ink painting. This was initiated in Japan but widely pursued by many neo-classicists in China. The calligraphy brush conceals countless possible ways of writing a line. For instance, repeatedly loaded with water and ink, it will deliver fascinating effects of multi-shaded lines, creating various depths and moods within one stroke. Together with the characteristic blur effect of Xuan paper (宣紙), the result is most intriguing aesthetically.
Some bold calligraphers went even further by merging two or more characters within one cluster. It may be interpreted as assimilating treasures of various cultures and unleashing them within one work. Looking at some modern abstract paintings it becomes obvious that they resemble Chinese calligraphy. So many artists of the West like Klee, Matisse, Picasso and others were fascinated by the art of calligraphy.
The essence of calligraphy, both classical and modern, stems from raw magic of simplicity and deeply natural spirituality. It should never be trivial or predictable. Even the most technically correct calligraphy can be the dullest thing on Earth. A great master calligrapher and seal carver Sha Menghai (沙孟海, 1900—1992) once said in reference to boring calligraphy:
“There's no music in it; it's nothing but blah, blah, blah, all the way through.”
Inspirational calligraphy ought to move the viewer to the core even if it is the most abstract work. It has music-like rhythm, a fascinating imaginative story, spectacular aura and unmatchable ambience. Anything else is not calligraphy but a waste of perfectly good ink and paper.