History of Chinese
Calligraphy - Part 4

Obvious art is unappealing and it does not stimulate our senses. On the other hand some of the avant-garde masterpieces can leap far ahead of their times, as has often happened in the past, and be left unappreciated for centuries. Calligraphy works can be so extreme that characters become unreadable yet their meaning is still sensible through their amazing condensation of energy. This trend was initiated by the Japanese grand master calligrapher Hidai Ternai (比田井天来 1872 - 1939). He was the precursor of a style known as “image of ink” (墨象, bokushou) that inspired many modern artists and calligraphers worldwide.

Calligraphy by Wang Youyi (王友誼, 1949 – present) in oracle bone script,


Even though characters in avant-garde calligraphy (前衛書道, zenei shodou) may seem to be or may actually be unreadable, it does not necessarily make such calligraphy a painting. We need to remember that although the border between those two arts is subtle, even most abstract sho is born like a phoenix from the ashes of years and years of classical studies. In any other case it would be an incomprehensible maze of lines and dots. In other words, one may not be able to “read” what is written, but can definitely feel it.

The main difference in artistic approach and philosophy is that classical calligraphy was meant to soothe the mind and harmonize energy flow, whereas its modern counterpart is there to stimulate as a visual and spiritual enhancement.

Unfortunately, in modern society there is no time, or perhaps people do not want to make time, for hours of studying classics and copying them in order to develop one’s skill. We don’t even have time to talk to each other face to face anymore, always escaping to use mobile phones instead. The ability to express one’s emotions not only via art but even words is therefore declining rapidly. The present plastic mentality is not sophisticated enough to meet the steep requirements of Chinese classical calligraphy. Sadly, fast, shallow lives, where immediate gratification is desired and viciously pursued, seem to be the predominant way of being.

The realm of calligraphy is vast, and requires venturing deep beyond if one wishes to discover its secrets, despite whether he writes or admires it. Just standing there in front of a work will not do the trick. Sho is like a living entity. It can see weaknesses, sense mindlessness and detect any reservation. One needs to deserve to be graced by the enchanted images and unrestrained passion that lurk quietly inside a calligraphy masterpiece.

Calligraphy by Huang Yao (黄尧, 1917 - 1987)

Today, the majority of people do not understand the art of calligraphy. This also applies to people native to the region where calligraphy was developed. One reason is a commercial lifestyle, and another is a lack of reliable information on the subject. It is important to know that a calligrapher’s main concerns are the vigour of the patterns that characters form on the paper, and the white space secluding the black lines. Some are content with uniform and rather organised compositions, whose approach is greatly appreciated by the majority of Westerners due to its “readability”. Others seek deeper, and use their creativity for energy emanating imaginative compositions, in which symmetry and logic step aside, and life experience and the artist’s unique personality take over the work. Such works are usually misunderstood and missed for a simple reason, that people forgot how to mentally free themselves from emotional shackles of the everyday rush.


Back to Chinese Calligraphy - Part 3

Back to Chinese Calligraphy - Part 1

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