Chinese calligraphy is the art of writing Chinese characters using special tools- a brush, ink stick, ink stone and rice paper. It has a history of over 3000 years, and is considered the most important art form in China, carrying the priority that European art has traditionally reserved for painting.
This elevated importance of calligraphy stems from the form of the written Chinese word. Each word is represented by a character, a unique abstract diagram. These evolved over thousands of years starting from simple pictures of nature, developing alongside and becoming intimately linked with Chinese aesthetic theory and philosophy. In this way, unlike an alphabet, a Chinese character carries more than just a phonetic sound or specific meaning. Its very form is considered an abstract interpretation of pure natural beauty, making it a rich means for artistic expression.
Learning Chinese calligraphy plays two key roles in Chinese culture. The first is to develop a practical understanding of Chinese aesthetic theory and philosophy. In Taoism, the “highest” state achievable is one of free self-expression, following the heart and guided by nature, yet while maintaining balance and unity. In Chinese calligraphy, the seemingly simple tools of a soft hair brush and black ink can create strokes that are thick or thin, smooth or rough, straight or cursive. The brush becomes an extension of the artist’s body and imagination, as if it is dancing on the rice paper.
Yet like a dancer, the calligrapher must learn choreographed movements and maintain compositional order. An understanding of principles about form, thickness and relationships between strokes and the arrangement of characters is necessary to create works with a dynamic but balanced contrast of white and black, and density with looseness. Within these bounds, the artist is free to express a personal vitality. This is the essence of the Chinese aesthetic sense.
The second role of Chinese calligraphy is as a wellbeing exercise, like Qigong meditation. The calligrapher moves their Qi in rhythm with the soft brush on absorbent rice paper. While challenging, developing a steady control of the brush is considered a pathway to master one’s Qi, as the calligrapher cultivates their discipline through practice. Once mastered, the movement of the brush is free and flowing, and truly becomes like meditation. A calligraphy work reveals the artist’s emotions, and an elegant, fluid work reflects a peaceful state of mind, and well-tempered personality.
Blue Mountains Cultural Centre has been running Chinese calligraphy workshops and courses since 2015. Participants have learnt to build from strokes to characters, in standard and running scripts, while learning famous Chinese philosophical sayings and traditional poems.
Join master calligrapher XueYi Bai as she teaches her Chinese calligraphy course starting in February at the centre in Katoomba. New members are welcome. Book on 47805410.