Suitcase and World: Calligraphy. The Chinese art of writing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Calligraphy. The Chinese art of writing.

in the entry foyer of my parent's house in Maryland hung a painting of single Chinese character written in calligraphic style. In my own house, I have several plaques with just one or two Chinese characters displayed - I love the simplistic beauty of the image. Despite the fact that I do not write Chinese, I can still appreciate the artistic strokes that it takes to compose the character.

To the Chinese, calligraphy occupies a distinguished position in the field of traditional art. It is not only a means of communication, but also a means of expressing a person's inner world in an aesthetic sense.

The Four Treasures of The Study
The basis of Chinese calligraphy is embodied in what are know as the "Four Treasures of The Study". Specifically, the four treasures are: a writing brush, paper, an ink stick, and an ink stone.

The Writing Brush
The Chinese calligraphy uses a huge variety of writing brushes. Contrary to what some may think, the choice depends not on a style of calligraphy that we want to practice, but on the frame of mind of the calligrapher: taste, strength, flexibility or stiffness in the wrist and arm, and so on.

The body of the Chinese calligraphy brush can be made from either bamboo, or rarer materials like red sandalwood, glass, ivory, silver, and gold. The head of the Chinese writing brush can be made from the hair (or feather) of a wide variety of animals, including the wolf, rabbit, deer, chicken, duck, goat, pig, tiger, etc.
When the head the brush is dipped in the ink, it sops up the ink and is ready to use. The amount of ink absorbed is important to Chinese calligraphy and therefore, the particular type of animal hair that is used is critical to the quality of the Chinese writing brush. Chinese calligraphers usually have their preferences for the type of brushes to fit their own calligraphy styles and the nature of a particular task.

The Paper
It is widely accepted that paper was invented by Cai Lun in the Chinese Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). For Chinese calligraphers, the paper of choice is Xuanzhi (宣紙), which is made from the bark of Pteroceltis tatarinowii, a species of elm, tree mixed with rice straw.

The Ink Stick
Traditionally, ink comes in the form of molded sticks and is composed of black smoke and a mixture of glue and herbal substances. The black smoke produced by the combustion of different material (spruce wood or several kinds of oil) is used to produce varied qualities of inks. This ink stick is rubbed on an ink stone with water to produce the liquid ink and the density of the ink is controlled by adjusting the quantity of water as needed. Sometimes, inkstones are decorated with pictures and poems or are gilded by well-known artists.

The Ink Stone
Generally, ink stones are made of a smooth and fine grained stone such as slate but other materials such as pottery, brick and tile are also widely used. Most ink stones for painting are square with a deep circular well and a cover.

Chinese Calligraphy Script Styles
There are five script styles: Seal scipt, Clerical script, Semi-cursive script, Cursive script and Regular script.

Seal Script
Seal Script, often called Small Seal Script, is the formal script of the Qin system of writing. Seal script is the oldest style that continues to be widely practiced. Today, this ancient style of Chinese writing is used predominantly in seals, hence the English name. Most people today cannot read the seal script, so it is generally not used outside the fields of calligraphy and carved seals.

Clerical Script
Clerical Script, sometimes called Official Script, developed from the Seal Script. It's identified by characters that are often "flat" in appearance, being wider than they are tall. The strokes may appear curved and with variations in width. Most noticeable is the dramatically flared tail of one dominant horizontal or downward-diagonal stroke, especially that to the lower right.

Semi-Cursive Script
Semi-cursive Script is the script is that most like normal handwriting in that strokes and more rarely characters, are allowed to run into one another. Compared to Regular Script, Semi-Cursive Script characters appear less angular and rounder.

Cursive Script
Cursive Script is a fully cursive script in that entire characters may be written without lifting the brush from the paper at all, and characters frequently flow into one another. Strokes are modified or eliminated completely to facilitate smooth writing and to create a beautiful, abstract appearance. Characters are highly rounded and soft in appearance, with a noticeable lack of angular lines.

There's no doubt I'm enrapt by Chinese calligraphy. I'm planning on visiting the museums in Shanghai and Beijing to admire the works of true masters and try to learn more about this ancient art form.

Of course. I want to try and find a calligraphic piece of art to bring back with me - I already have a spot set aside on my living room wall!