Old calligraphy, old territory

April 15, 2008

Recently I saw a catalogue from an international calligraphy exhibition. Most of the works were conventional in the sense that the aim was to make beautiful letters and arrange them well. There were hardly any pieces that went beyond this given. The work was adequate but it didn’t move or inspire me.

The last half century, the craft of calligraphy has been aspiring to be recognized as an art form, but there are only a few practitioners who embody this. Mostly it has stayed stuck in the basic levels of mastery of technique and material with little to say beyond the text contained in the quote.

I think part of the reason for this is that what it would take for calligraphic art to soar would require letting go of the very thing one aspires to as a practitioner of the craft- beautiful letters. Also, I think that to make art one needs to be an artist first and calligrapher second. Usually though, people start the other way around.

To move out of the closed circle of more and more perfection in the letters(and less life in the work),  you have to take some hefty risks. You have to be willing to let go of being a ‘good calligrapher’ and navigate a period of chaos.  You need to allow yourself to make ugly letters or no letters at all, and produce failed pieces.  Maybe for years,  until something true surfaces, something truly your own.

Looking at the pieces in that catalogue I could see exactly who had folowed what workshop with which famous calligrapher. Out of all the entries there was only one obscure piece that had broken away and explored new territory. The territory of their own heart. 



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