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Archive for the ‘Chinese Calligraphy’ Category

Three Masters Focusing on Temperament and Taste

Part of Scroll of a Poem on the Miserable Life in Huangzhou, written in running script by Su Shi. This chapter will introduce three calligraphy masters from the Song Dynasty: Su Shi, Huang Tingjian and Mi Fu, not because they were active in the latter half of the 11th century, and not because they were friends, but because they developed spontaneously a style focusing on the expression of emotion and feelings. Now we introduce them in the order of their ages. Su Shi had extra talents and knowledge and was an outstanding man of letters, painter and calligrapher. His bold poems constitute his own unique school and were praised highly by the people of his age and the people of later generations. He had a good command of the running and regular scripts. But his political life was turbulent, and he was exiled from the capital several times. Once he was slandered and thrown in prison for 130 days. Saved by the empress dowager and key ministers, he survived but was exiled to Huangzhou in south China. One spring day in the third year of his life in Huangzhou, he wrote a poem to describe his misery. Then he turned the poem into the famous Scroll of a Poem on the Miserable Life in Huangzhou. This poem contains 120 characters in 24 sentences. Many changes in the strokes express a profound artistic conception which matches the depression expressed by the poetic lines.

At the beginning, the characters progress slowly, and show even spaces between them. He uses bent strokes, and oblique parts and lines to express his unquiet heart. In the second character on the second line the last vertical stroke is written like a sharp sword, occupying a large space, which exudes boundless feelings. What we see here is part of the work. The last sentence means that he wants to go back to the capital city, but there are nine gates to pass through, and he wants to go back to his hometown, but the tombs of his relatives are far away. With different sizes, these characters show strong contrasts, and demonstrate his unstable mind and resentment, and also his perplexity and pessimism. The shapes of the dots and strokes, their strength, speed, falsity and reality, density and looseness, and the ups and downs of their rhythm and changes show the natural harmony of the whole work.

Su Shi left behind him many poems and brief comments on calligraphy. Picture of Withered Tree and Strange Rock by Su Shi“Innocence and romanticism are my teachers, with imagination and creation, I finish my calligraphic works, free from traditional rules. I write dots and strokes freely, without any restrictions.” He once said that he enjoyed handwriting. It was better for old people to write than to play chess, he said. In the postscript written on a calligraphic work by a friend, he said that calligraphy was a game played with strokes. Su Shi loved painting too. The themes of his paintings are not concrete things, but the water, rocks and hills in his mind or the resentment in his heart. Huang Tingjian was a master of poetry and calligraphy. When he was an official he always had trouble, and was exiled from the capital several times. His calligraphic works are powerful and changeable. The characters in his regular and running scripts extend outward. His handwriting in the wild cursive script is better than that of his teachers. Scroll to Eminent Monks (see next page) expresses his unconstrained, straightforward and loquacious nature. Huang Tingjian emphasized gracefulness in his calligraphy. Like Su Shi, he took calligraphy as a game. Mi Fu was also good at poetry and calligraphy. He was brave and unyielding. His personality shows in his unrestrained, light and natural running and cursive script handwriting. His Collection of Tiaoxi Brook Poems in the running script is a good example of this.

Mi Fu’s articles on calligraphy, like his calligraphic works, focus on graceful and romantic touches. By these standards, he assessed the calligraphic works of his predecessors. He even criticized Yan Zhenqing, a calligrapher of the mid-Tang Dynasty, who opened a new chapter for the development of calligraphy, saying that Yan’s regular script handwriting was too plain. Like Su Shi and Huang Tingjian, he believed that calligraphy was a game, saying, “Calligraphy is a game, so it is unnecessary to consider the characters as beautiful or ugly. It is enough if you are satisfied with your work. After you put down the brush, the game is over.”

These three calligraphy masters from the Song Dynasty were influenced by the prevailing cultural trends and aesthetic viewpoints. The Song Dynasty was influenced by the developed culture of the Tang Dynasty, but it met internal and external unrest. The men of letters had less aspirations and progressive enthusiasm than those of the Tang Dynasty. When they found it difficult to realize their high ambitions, they devoted themselves to poetry, calligraphy and other artistic activities exclusively. Opposite to the vigorous and forceful style of the Tang Dynasty, the poetry of the Song Dynasty sought a deep and cold resonance. Tang paintings have landscape, flowers, birds and natural scenes as the background, and beautiful women, cows and horses playing the main roles. But the landscape paintings of the Song Dynasty have natural scenes as the main objects.

Therefore, the people of the Song Dynasty liked the running-script calligraphy, a script between the regular and the cursive scripts – not rigorous like the regular script, and easier to learn and recognize than the cursive script. The running script is convenient for the calligrapher to use his brush, and makes it easy for him to express his peaceful, simple and leisurely mind, and to realize his aspiration to be happy through calligraphy.

The sentiments and interests the Song calligraphers sought are similar to but different from the gracefulness cherished by the Jin calligraphers. Both emphasized the beauty of the image of the objects and the beauty of the interest and charm of calligraphy. But the gracefulness cherished by the Jin masters has a narrow connotation, merely having a peaceful, plain and quiet tone. While playing such an artistic game, the Song calligraphers got rid of all Part of Scroll of Tiaoxi Brook Poems in running script by Mi Fukinds of shackles and pressures, and created works in a powerful and unconstrained style. They reached the best understanding of the poetry and handwriting, and expressed them in the best way. So the calligraphers took their counterparts from the Jin Dynasty as their teachers but they outstripped their counterparts in purport and techniques. This is obvious from a comparison of the handwriting in the running and cursive scripts by the Song calligraphers with those of the Jin calligraphers.

Two Masters of the Tang Dynasty

During the Tang Dynasty, calligraphic style changed and developed. In href=”http://www.chinascan.org/archives/900/jiucheng-palace-tabletwrittern-in-regular-script-by-ouyang-xun”>Buy Cialis Super Active+ Online alt=”Jiucheng Palace Tablet,writtern in regular script by Ouyang Xun” width=”69″ height=”122″ />this chapter, we will introduce Chu Suiliang and Yan Zhenqing, the two leaders of the trend in calligraphy trend at that time. In the early years of the Tang Dynasty, there were four famous calligraphers: Ouyang Xun, Yu Shinan, Chu Suiliang and Xue Ji, in order of their ages.

Chu Suiliang (596-658) was once an official of the imperial court, and wrote the draft declaration made by Emperor Taizong when he abdicated in favor of his son. When the new emperor, Gaozong, married Wu Zetian, one of his father’s concubines, Chu protested, and was exiled from the capital.

Preface to Tripitaka, written in regular script by Chu Suiliang. Chu studied the calligraphic styles of Ouyang Xun and Wang Xizhi, and the Han official script. He combined all these into a new type of script, abandoning the”silkworm’s head” and “wild goose’s tail.” His calligraphic style underwent three major changes. The Preface to Tripitake is one of his masterpieces. Written in the regular script, the characters are thin and smooth, but powerful. It became fashionable to copy his handwriting, and he himself was praised as a calligraphy master of the Tang Dynasty.

Yan Zhenqing (708-784) was born into an aristocratic family. His grandfather and paternal uncle were calligraphers, and instilled a love of calligraphy into him. Yan passed the highest imperial examination and became an official for a time. His powerful and vigorous handwriting in the regular or running scripts reflect his lofty moral character.

At first, Yan copied Chu’s style, and later Wang Xizhi’s. He finally developed a powerful, fantastic and beautiful style, which was in harmony with the flourishing culture of the powerful Tang Dynasty. His style has been enthusiastically followed by later generations.

Here we should introduce Liu Gongquan (778-865) who was born 70 years later, and became as famous as Yan, whose style he studied.

Liu Gongquan received encouragement from several emperors, who were hisTablet to Bodyguard of Emperor by Liu Gongquan patrons. Liu’s characters are powerful, vigorous and smooth, and the strokes extend outward. He is famous for his command of tension and the cohesion of his ink. Like Yan’s, Liu’s calligraphy has been copied widely by people of later generations.

Rigor is the most important characteristic of the calligraphers of the Tang Dynasty. The Tang style is quite different from that of the Jin Dynasty, which is elegant, graceful, unrestrained and beautiful, while that of the Tang Dynasty is strict and neat, and easy to learn. From the Tang Dynasty on, calligraphy became an art involving many more people.

Father and son: Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi

Chinese characters and calligraphy have more important functions. Now let Part of Memorial to Emperor Recommending Jizhi, written in regular script by Zhong Youus know several key creation trends in the development of Chinese calligraphy in the Jin, Tang, Song and Qing dynasties. Leading these creation trends were calligraphic masters of their periods.

This chapter deals with a father and a son of the Jin Dynasty – Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi. The former was praised as a sage in calligraphy circles. Wang Xizhi was born into a noble family. His grandfather, father and two brothers were senior officials of the imperial court. His family was a calligraphic family too. Historical records show that of the nearly 100 famous calligraphers of the Jin Dynasty, 20 were of the Wang clan. In his youth, Wang Xizhi was once a petty official, who gave up official life to live as a hermit and devote himself to calligraphy. He is said to have created nearly 1,000 calligraphic works, but none of the originals have survived. Those we can see today are copies made by calligraphers of later periods. Of these dozen or so copies, most are in the running and regular scripts, and only one is in the cursive script.

wp-att-882″ href=”http://www.chinascan.org/archives/874/two-notes-of-running-script-by-xie-an”>Two notes of running script by Xie AnWang Xizhi learnt calligraphy from his father first, and then from the famous woman calligrapher Madam Wei. In middle age, he crossed the Yangtze River to visit many famous mountains in north China, met many famous calligraphers and examined a lot of stele inscriptions. He studied calligraphic theory and developed a natural and unrestrained new style. For a time, this new style was adopted by the sons and nephews of the famous contemporary calligrapher Yu Yi, much to the latter’s chagrin. But before long ,Yu Yi himself admired Wang’s new style for its vividness and shiningness.

Wang’s new style was a milestone in the history of Chinese calligraphy, Short Note of a Sunny Day After a Pleasant Snow, written in running script by Wang Xizhipraised as a pleasing departure from the old styles of Zhong You and Zhang Zhi of the Eastern Han Dynasty.

Xie An, a grand councilor of the Jin Dynasty, was one of the 41 man of letters who gathered at the Orchid Pavilion (see p. 5). He learnt the cursive script from Wang. Wang Xianzhi was once an official of the imperial court, of higher rank than his father. Like his father, he was a man of integrity. When Xie An asked him to write Part of an inscription for a new hall, he refused, because he thought the elegant hall had been built against the will of the people. A legend has it that in his teens, he told his father that the “zhang cao” cursive script was too restricted, and proposed developing a new style midway between the cursive and running scripts. Later, Wang Xianzhi developed the unique running-cursive script. His Short Note of Duck-Head Pill in the running script (see next page) contains 15 characters in two lines. All the characters are natural and smooth, unrestrained and lyrical. In this, he surpassed his father.

According to Sun Guoting’s Treatise on Calligraphy, one day, Xie An asked Wang Xianzhi, “In comparison with your father’s handwriting, what do you think of your own?” Wang answered, “Certainly, my handwriting is better than my father’s.” “But the critics do not think so,” said Xie An. “They do not understand,” said Wang Xianzhi. Sun Guoting criticized Wang for this. But this short note shows that his handwriting is in fact better than his father’s. In his On Calligraphy, Zhang Huaiguan of the Tang Dynasty said that Wang Xianzhi possessed exceptional talent, and developed a new style different from both the running and cursive scripts. This new style was unrestrained, and became very fashionable.

Short Note of a Sunny Day After a Pleasant Snow, written in running script by Wang XizhiThe Jin Dynasty was racked by internal disturbances and foreign invasions, and many talented people forsook politics for intellectual and philosophical pursuits. Scholars sought to explore life and demanded the liberation of the personality in a revival of the “hundred schools of thought.”

Following this trend, literature and art got rid of the shackles of Confucian doctrine step by step, and sought ways to express emotions and feelings with charm and vigor. Calligraphy, the most concentrated expression of the aesthetic viewpoint of the Jin Dynasty, emphasized the expression of inner emotions and feelings through the patterns of dots and strokes. Calligraphers vied each other to update their handwriting techniques, patterns of characters and structures, thus pushing calligraphic art to its first historical peak.

Calligraphy and the Traditional Chinese Cultural Mindset

Human mask design on a bronze three-legged tripodWe have talked about the features, evolution and major functions of Chinese calligraphy. Now we will talk about the relations between calligraphy and the traditional cultural mindset of the Chinese people.

The cultural mindset of the Chinese people can be seen in the painting on prehistoric pottery and the human mask design on a bronze three-legged tripod of the Shang Dynasty displayed in the Museum of Chinese History, in the three halls of the Palace Museum in Beijing and in the Longmen Grottoes in Henan Province. Also, it can be found on tomb bricks of the Qin Dynasty, roof tiles of the Han Dynasty, poems of the Tang Dynasty and rhymed verses of the Song Dynasty.

Calligraphy is an elegant art, with a history of several thousand years, and fully displays the cultural mindset of the Chinese people. Such a cultural mindset is rooted in classical philosophical thinking. It can be dated back to the pre-Qin period and also embraces Confucian and Taoist thought. Confucian thought and Taoist thought supplemented each other, and became important factors promoting and affecting the evolution and development of the aesthetics of calligraphy.

Image of ConfuciusConfucius (551-479 B.C.) was the founder of the Confucian school of thought which was predominant in China for more than 2,000 years, and represented the main social and cultural trends of ancient China. The Confucian school advocated kindness, loyalty, forgiveness and the moderation. Concerning the ideal outlook on life, it advocates progress and optimism. In the field of art, it affirms natural beauty, and emphasizes the integration of beauty and kindness. It believes the art can mold a person’s temperament and educate a person in aesthetics, thus helping that person enter a lofty spiritual realm and promoting the harmonious development of society.

The founder of Taoism, Lao Zi, lived in the same historical period as Confucius, although slightly before him. The essence of the Taoist thought Image of Laoziemphasizes that thinking and behavior should obey natural laws. In its outlook on life, Taoism focuses on retreat, avoidance and passivity. In the sphere of art, it emphasizes the ideal of going back to nature and looking for the quality of nature and human beings. Taoism yearns for artistic romanticism, and maintains that aesthetics should be separate from concrete practice, and that people should not seek after beauty which is combined with benefits and satisfies physiological needs. Real beauty should be natural, and exist in a spiritual realm free from outside shackles. Such artistic aesthetics are more profound than those of Confucianism, and exerted a significant influence on later generations.

In general, the common aesthetic outlook held by these two schools and displayed in calligraphy and other arts can be seen in the following three aspects: the beauty of simplicity, the beauty of momentum and rhythm and the beauty of moderation.

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