Chinese calligraphy as a form of art


B.S. Źródło: Wise via / CC BY

Hello! It’s time to start a series of posts devoted to Chinese painting. This branch of Asian art occupies a special place in my heart, so I decided to devote some of the entries on my blog to this topic. Before that, however, I have prepared a post about one of the basic, characteristic features of Chinese painting, namely the combination of image and writing, known as Chinese calligraphy!

Let’s start with a brief history of writing. Chinese characters belong to the ideographic writings. This means that each concept has one sign (up to today about 50,000 signs and still new ones are created!). The history of the Chinese script dates back to the 14th – 11th century BC, from which the signs engraved on the prophetic bones originate, characterized by a considerable simplification. At the beginning of the first thousand BC there was an archaic form of today’s handwriting, which was called zhouwen. According to legend, it was normalized by the chancellor of the imperial court – Shi Zhou. Another normalization took place during the Qin dynasty in 213 BC. The new writing was called xiaozhuan. The most important event related to the Chinese literature, however, were the transformations during the Tang dynasty, which led to the uprising of a current writing, which is use in China to this day. During this long process of shaping the writing five main styles have been created, practiced in contemporary Chinese society: zhuan (seal style), li (clerical style), kai (standard style), xing (current writing) and cao (running style). The latter is currently used in art and it is one of the categories of calligraphy.

It is also worth mentioning that two Japanese syllables: hiragana and katakana originate from the Chinese script. In addition, for a long time it played the same role in Korean, Japan and China as the Latin language in Europe.

Writing understood as an art appeared in the fourth century BC. The artist Wang Xizhi and his son Wang Xianzhi are undoubtedly considered the most eminent masters of Chinese calligraphy. It’s difficult to mention all the important calligraphy masters because there are too many of them. As well as none of them was concerned only with this field of art. Calligraphy can not exist alone.

Wang Xizhi "Oglądając gęsi" - fotograficzna reprodukcja Źródło: Metmuseum. Zdjęcie udostępnione w Wikimedia Commons

Wang Xizhi “Watching geese” – photographic reproduction
Source: Metmuseum. Image shared in Wikimedia Commons

In Chinese art, we can distinguish two directions of the use of calligraphy. On the one hand, Chinese writing can occur spontaneously, without any pictorial additions. Calligraphy works are often hung on interior walls in the form of scrolls. So they take on the functions of images. A more extensive concept, however, is to put a scripture on the paintings, most often by the artist, who provided the image with the title, signature, date or dedication. Sometimes he also created a poem that would match the mood of the image. Another formula was to put the praise on the picture by other people. For example, the writers gave a delight to the work by placing a poem or a fragment of poetic prose on it.
Scripture has been and still is an integral part of the image, which is a specific feature of Chinese aesthetics. Since the appearance of the text largely determines the value of the work, it is important to take care of its calligraphic value.  The most famous artist of contemporary Chinese painting was the late Qi Baishi. His paintings were often decorated with archaic titles, which in modern times was a novelty.
Qi Baishi "Cykada" Autor: Ци Байши Źródło: Wikimedia Commons

Qi Baishi “Cicada”
Author: Ци Байши
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese calligraphy has had a significant impact on American and later European abstract paintings. For example, works by artists such as Mark Tobey or Jackson Pollock can be used for us. In western painting of the 1950s and 1960s, one can even speak about the calligraphic direction in art (eg in Hungary). So, Chinese calligraphy is important in the context of the study of Asian art and the art of Europe.
That’s it for today. How do you like the entry? I invite you to comment!

Agnieszka Gach

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