Asian Calligraphy

Country: Category: Culture By: fearfrog
Asian Calligraphy
Asian calligraphy typically uses ink brushes to write Chinese characters called Hanzi in Chinese, Hanja in Korean, Kanji in Japanese and Han Tu in Vietnamese. Calligraphy is known as Shufa in Chinese, Seoye in Korean and Shodo in Japanese--all mean "the way of writing." Calligraphy is considered an important art in East Asia and the most refined form of East Asian painting.

Calligraphy has also influenced ink and wash painting, which is accomplished using similar tools and techniques. Calligraphy has influenced most major art styles in East Asia, including sumi-e, a style of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese painting based entirely on calligraphy.

In ancient China, the oldest Chinese characters we still have are Jiaguwen characters carved on ox scapula and tortoise plastrons, while brush-written ones have decayed over time. During the divination ceremony, after the cracks were made, the characters were written with a brush on the shell or bone to be later carved, perhaps by a separate individual and in a specific workshop. Moreover, it is evident that each archaic kingdom of current China had its own set of characters. In Imperial China, the graphs on old steles (some dating from 200 BC in Xiaozhuan style)are still accessible to us.

About 220 BC, the emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first to conquer the entire Chinese basin, imposed several reforms, among them Li Si's character uniformisation, which created a set of 3300 standardized Xiaozhuan characters. Despite the fact that the main writing implement of the time was already the brush, few papers survive from this period, and the main examples of this style are on steles. Soon after, the Lishu style (clerical script) which is more regularized, and in some ways similar to modern text was developed. Kaishu style (regular script), still in use today, is even more regularized. It can be seen that the Kaishu shape of characters 1000 years ago was similar to that used at the end of Imperial China.

Cursive styles such as Xíngshu (semi-cursive or running script) and Caoshu (cursive or grass script) are "high speed" calligraphic styles, where each move made by the writing tool is visible. These styles especially like to play with stroke order rules, creating new visual effects.

Native writers, moreover, create their own style and stroke order rules to ease and speed their own use, which imply wide variations in the resulting character shapes from one word and one writer to the same word by an other writer

Calligraphy is central in Tibetan culture. The script is derived from Indic scripts. As in China, the nobles of Tibet, such as the High Lamas and inhabitants of the Potala Palace, were usually capable calligraphers. Tibet has been a center of Buddhism for several centuries, and that religion places a great deal of significance on the written word. This does not provide for a large body of secular pieces, although they do exist (but are usually related in some way to Tibetan Bhuddism). Almost all high religious writing involved calligraphy, including letters sent by the Dalai Lama and other religious and secular authorities. Calligraphy is particularly evident on their prayer wheels, although this calligraphy was forged rather than scribed, much like Arab and Roman calligraphy is often found on buildings. Although originally done with a reed, Tibetan calligraphers now use chisel tipped pens and markers as well.

How the brush is held depends on which calligraphic genre is practiced. For Chinese calligraphy, the method of holding the brush is more special; the brush is held vertically straight gripped between the thumb and middle finger. The index finger lightly touches the upper part of the shaft of the brush (stabilizing it) while the ring and little fingers tuck under the bottom of the shaft. The palm is hollow and you should be able to hold an egg in there. This method, although difficult to hold correctly for the beginner, allows greater freedom of movement, control and execution of strokes. For Japanese calligraphy, the brush is held in the right hand between the thumb and the index finger, very much like a Western pen.

A paperweight is placed at the top of all but the largest pages to prevent slipping; for smaller pieces the left hand is also placed at the bottom of the page for support.

In China, there are many people who practice calligraphy in public places such as parks and sidewalks, using water as their ink and the ground as their paper. Very large brushes are required. Although such calligraphic works are temporary (as the water will eventually dry), they serve the dual purpose of both being an informal public display of one's work, and an opportunity to further practice one's calligraphy.

In Japan, smaller pieces of Japanese calligraphy are traditionally written seated in the traditional Japanese way (seiza), on the knees with the buttocks resting on the heels. In modern times, however, practitioners frequently practice calligraphy seated on a chair at a table. Larger pieces may be written while standing; in this case the paper is usually placed directly on the floor, but some calligraphers use an easel.

Calligraphy takes many years of dedicated practice. Correct stroke order, proper balance and rhythm of characters are essential in calligraphy. Skilled handling of the brush produces a pleasing balance of characters on the paper, thick and thin lines, and heavy and light inking. In most cases, a calligrapher will practice writing the Chinese character yong many, many times in order to perfect the eight basic essential strokes contained within the character. Those who can correctly write the yong character beautifully can potentially write all characters with beauty.

Basic calligraphy instruction is part of the regular school curriculum in both China and Japan.

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