The Beautiful Letter (The Art of Chinese Calligraphy) | #bekantanknows
Calligraphy, literally means “beautiful writing”. Calligraphy was the paramount visual art in pre-modern China. Using only brush and ink, calligraphers developed their techniques over generations. This amazing graphic art still being perceived as an outward expression of the artist’s inner psychology. Its rhythm, movement, and flow is accessible to anyone who views it, not only to those of us who can read Chinese characters.
The earliest surviving Chinese script dates back over 3,000 years, in inscriptions made for the rulers of the Shang dynasty (circa 1600-1100 BCE). Since the fourth century CE calligraphy has been practiced, prized and collected as an elite visual art. From as early as the 10th century calligraphy was a key component of the imperial civil service examinations. Honing your writing could pave a path to power and prestige. Collectors and connoisseurs also saw exceptional calligraphy as an expression of upright morality. Good character was seen in good brushwork.
In the 20th century calligraphy remained central to Chinese art, expressing an enduring relationship with history. In the 21st century it gives Chinese artists a distinctive voice in a global art world. For the contemporary collector, Chinese calligraphy appeals to both a classic and cutting-edge taste.
Tools & Materials
The ink being used in calligraphy is usually made from lampblack, a sooty residue created by burning pine resin or oil underneath a hood. After being collected, the lampblack is mixed with glue and then pressed into molds. The resulting hardened cakes or sticks can then be ground against a stone and mixed with water, a process that allows the calligrapher to control the thickness of the ink and density of the pigment. Eventually ink cakes and ink sticks themselves became a decorative art form, and many well-known artists created designs and patterns for their molds.
A flexible animal-hair brush is then dipped into the ink solution, and used to create a work upon a sheet of paper or silk.
The invention of paper is widely appreciated as one of China’s major technological contributions to the world. Tradition credits the discovery of the process to Cai Lun in 105 C.E., though recent tomb findings demonstrate that paper was known at least a century earlier. Paper was made from various fibers, such as mulberry, hemp, and bamboo. The invention of paper provided an inexpensive alternative to silk as a ground material for calligraphy and painting.
The Calligraphy Artist
Chinese calligraphers also tended to model themselves on historic masters. The best way to learn was by copying masterpiece of other legendary artist. As many great calligraphers were also collectors, they would often directly copy original pieces in their own collection. Sometimes they would even replicate the original artist’s signature, making the task of authenticating an historic work quite a challenge.
External Source: christies.com, asiasociety.org, comuseum.org
Contributor: Benaya Stephen
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