Chinese calligraphy is an art form that originates from China which unifies all the dialects that are spoken in China. The meaning of the word calligraphy is defined as “beautiful writing” and this ancient art exists in other countries as well, though the most notable and well-known form is Chinese calligraphy. This form of art is regarded as supreme among the other art forms in China. Compared to other art forms like paintings, sculptures, or poetry, calligraphy is regarded as a higher art form since the early periods. The calligraphy artists kept in mind the importance of how they wrote out the characters and the impact of the characters, just as much as what the contents they wrote about.
The earliest words that was written in Chinese calligraphy were illustrative images, where the characters were meaning of the words were understood through imagination, suggestion, and thought. The images were drawn by the artists, and were flexible in nature meaning that even a slight change in the way it was written or positioned could give a totally different meaning.
One of the oldest forms of calligraphy is found on the bones of certain animals and on turtle shells. The words that are written on these bones and turtle shells are referred to as jiaguwen that dates back to the Shang dynasty (ca.1600-ca.1100 B.C.E.). Though the writings aren’t similar in terms of size, they aren’t exactly the same in size either. During the Shang dynasty, these animal bones and turtle shells were used in important divination rituals by the Emperors. These writings that was used for divination rituals were known as oracle bone scripts. Scholars would debate about the status give to those who could read and write the calligraphies by political figures as well as its relation to the divination rituals.
Writing calligraphy on animal bones and turtle shells was indeed a skillful art due to the limited space a calligrapher was allowed to work on. Hence the characters were found to lack the proper shapes and styles of true calligraphy. During the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E. upto 220 C.E.), true calligraphy started to be practised with the invention of black ink, and this practice continues until now. Special brushes, black ink, and of course different paper sizes, were used as basic tools for calligraphy, and the practice still continues today.
Calligraphy brushes were made up of animal hairs where rabbit hair, goat hair and weasel hair were found to be very practical to use. These animal hairs were bunched up and arranged inside a tube normally made from either wood or bamboo. The outer layer was made up of longer hairs that allowed a character to be tapered off gracefully. The type of line produced in calligraphy is determined by the brush or brushes used. A master calligrapher will know which brush to use to create and maximize the message of the words he has chosen to display. It must be stressed that the flexibility of calligraphy brushes allows the message to convey the skill and artful expressiveness of the calligrapher.
Pine resin or oil is burnt and the black residue left behind is mixed with other ingredients including glue and left to set in ink molds to form ink stones. These ink stones are then mixed with water, the ratio of which was according to the calligrapher’s preference to outline the characters. The ink stones have become decorative pieces in today’s modern world as the ink can be bought in liquid form from stationery shops.
Paper is another invention by a Chinese man called Cai Lun around 105 C.E. In the beginning, bamboo and mulberry hemp were used to make paper sheets which were a cheaper alternative compared to writing and painting on silk.
In ancient day calligraphy, a master calligrapher was required to possess the following essential tools – a good set of brushes of various thickness and length, ink stone, paper and ink, which were considered as the Four Treasures of the Study ( or “wenfang sibao” in Mandarin ) to produce high quality work. The master calligrapher would mix water with the ink stone to get the ink consistency required for his work.
In China, calligraphy is considered to have a higher standing than painting, even though paintings were colourful in nature compared to calligraphy which featured only black ink. Just like paintings, calligraphy can serve as a way of expression by it’s artist, ie, art as seen through the eyes of the calligrapher.
The Chinese language consists of several thousand characters which are broken down into different strokes which signify different meanings. To make things more complex, one character can be further broken down into 4 different tones that carry 4 different meanings which one must be able to understand when reading Mandarin. A skilled calligrapher will be able to express this with the strokes of the characters, ie, a heavy stroke or light stroke of the same character may express a totally different meaning. This is a meaningful way of expressing the message in calligraphy. Thus people who are able to read and grasp the true meaning of what the calligraphy speaks out, are normally scholars or people with a certain form of education. Hence the level of understanding and interpretation of calligraphy is often linked to one’s social standing.
In short, calligraphy is a very important part of China’s history and rich culture. In order not to let this important art form and culture die out, calligraphy has been incorporated into many Chinese school curriculum. Children are taught how to mix water with the ink stone to get the right black ink consistency, and the correct pressure used with the special brushes to give the wording the right impact on the paper. Master calligraphers also teach students about Chinese philosophy and the importance of using specific characters to convey their messages through calligraphy.
21st April 2020 18:40
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