Famous words of brilliant landscape painter Shi Tao (石涛 1642-1710) of Qin dynasty have laid the foundation for modern Chinese calligraphy aesthetics. He said that “the ink should follow the times”. Still, it was not until 20th century when Chinese calligraphy started to deviate rather drastically from classical rigid approach.
The first person who absolutely revolutionised Chinese calligraphy was Lu Weizhao (1899-1980) who was deeply influenced by Picasso, and vice versa. He has introduced new approach to writing lines and general proportion ratio of character compounds 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.
Other known technique is using different shades of ink. This was initiated in Japan but widely pursued by many neo-classicists in China. Calligraphy brush conceals infinite recipe on line drawing. For instance repeatedly loaded with water and ink it will deliver wicked effects of multi-shaded line creating various depth and moods within one stroke.
Some bold calligraphers even further, by merging two or more characters in one cluster. It may be interpreted as assimilating treats of various cultures of other countries and unleashing within one work. Look at some modern abstract paintings, they resemble Chinese calligraphy. So many artists of the West like Klee, Matisse, Picasso and others were fascinated by art of calligraphy.
The essence of calligraphy, both classical and modern, is raw magic of simplicity and deeply spiritual nature. It should never be trivial, dull or predictable. Even the most technically correct calligraphy can be the dullest thing on Earth. Great master calligrapher and seal carver Sha Menghai, (沙孟海1900-1992) has said once 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 the viewer to the core even if it is the most abstract one. It has musical rhythm, fascinating imaginative story, spectacular aura and unmatchable ambience. Anything else is not calligraphy but a waste of perfectly good ink and paper.
Obvious art is boring and it does not stimulate our senses, yet too avant-garde masterpieces can leap far ahead of their times, as they often did in the past, and be left unappreciated for centuries. Some of calligraphy works can be so extreme that characters are unreadable. This trend was initiated by 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” (墨像) that inspired many modern artists and calligraphers worldwide. Then again, even though characters may seem or 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 faint, even most abstract sho is born like phoenix from 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 sense it.