Monday, February 1, 2016


In an era when text is created, stored, processed, and distributed through computers it is easy to forget the expressive power and historical significance of the handwritten word. Writing letters to loved ones has been replaced with email and texting. Books are printed by the millions. There was a time when each copy of a book was written by someone with quill and ink. Modern efficiency and convenience facilitate the spread of ideas like never before. This mass production of text can make us overlook the value of writing as a visual art. Calligraphy remains beneficial even as technology makes handwriting less prevalent in our lives.
In some Asian cultures, particularly China and Japan, penmanship carries greater importance than it does in other parts of the world. This is partly due to the structure of a language. Written Chinese, for example, has no alphabet. Every word has its own character, and characters can be quite elaborate. An individual word is an artwork unto itself rather than a string of smaller symbols. To some it may be just black and white scribbles. Under aesthetic consideration, however, the contrast between tonal simplicity and complexity of shape gives vitality to such artwork.

The act of writing a word, of drawing a character, can be a vehicle for pursuing mental tranquility and spiritual strength. Calligraphy, for many, is as much meditation as it is a form of communication. Every stroke of the brush or pen is given complete attention. Every movement carries a sense of purpose. In relation to Zen Buddhism this practice is called Hitsuzendo. Zen calligraphers clear their minds of distracting thoughts and translate that experience into ink-based images. The state of mind while writing a word is of higher importance than the word itself. In this way, calligraphy benefits the practitioner regardless of technology or culture.


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