The Art of Calligraphy

By Nicky D.

When my host family first introduced me to Chinese calligraphy I was extremely interested in the art. Chinese calligraphy isn’t as simple as it looks; everything surrounding it has a precise method. Since I have started learning about calligraphy, I have learned about three important things: the materials used, the different styles of calligraphy, and the use of calligraphy.

When observing my host sister do Chinese calligraphy I first saw the materials she used. There are four main materials used in calligraphy. 筆 (brush),墨 (ink),紙 (paper), and 硯 (inkstone). The brush is a special calligraphy brush made out of animal fur. Each hair of the brush is thicker at the base and thinner at the end, so the brush can hold a lot of ink at the base while the tip tapers to a small point. Traditional Chinese ink is contained in a small dried block that is mixed with water to form liquid ink, but today it is more convenient for most people to buy pre-made ink. The paper used is rice paper, which absorbs the ink in a special way and makes the calligraphy stand out. Finally, the ink stone is used to mix the dried ink with water. I think that the materials in calligraphy are really unique because they are much more interactive than pencil and paper. It is so cool to be able to grind the ink against the inkstone and control the color on the paper.

My host mom also loved to show me her calligraphy books, which showcased the many styles of calligraphy. There are numerous different styles, all of which had purposes at different points in history. There is one style that is extremely legible for anyone who knows Chinese – all of the characters are sharp and clear. Another is slightly more artistic, where each character has one stroke that stands out more than the rest. I could usually read those characters, but sometimes they looked different than what I was used to. Other styles were unreadable to me, especially the cursive styles. It takes a lot of knowlege aout the Chinese language to be able to read some of the different styles of calligraphy.

At first I didn’t understand why it was necessary to be able to write one character in so many ways… isn’t normal Chinese hard enough? But then I learned more about the reasons for the different styles. At various historical times, high-ranking officials didn’t want common people to be able to read their documents. To do this, they made a special style of calligraphy that normal people couldn’t read. Other types of calligraphy were used for official government documents. Over time, many different styles arose and are still appreciated today. To me, the coolest part about Chinese calligraphy is the fact that people today still care about such an ancient art and really see its beauty.

I also learned that calligraphy is coming back more today. To improve students’ ability to write Chinese characters, many elementary schools make it mandatory for students to practice the art. In addition to this, many parents encourage their children to practice at home. My host mom told me about why she wants her daughter to learn calligraphy. Since calligraphy takes a lot of time and effort, it helps to improve concentration and patience. It is also relaxing; if you walk around China in the mornings you can sometimes see people using water and a large brush to practice calligaphy on the sidewalk. You can almost compare this to using sidewalk chalk, and it really shows that calligraphy can also be something done for fun.

By learning about the art of calligraphy in China, I have gotten a glimpse of China’s history and people. I hope that calligraphy never dies out, because it is something that should be appreciated forever.

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