Appreciating an Ancient Art

Article excerpt

BYLINE: VERONICA WILKINSON

WHAT better way to continue tradition than by appreciating the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy or written paradigms (shu fa), which are not just beautiful inscriptions to decorate a surface.

Director of the Taipei Liaison Office in Cape Town Simon SK Tu and his family recently joined members of Cape Town's Chinese community for a customary dinner and family entertainment to usher in 2009 as the year of the Ox last month.

At this event there was a demonstration of a way of writing that has changed in style over centuries, but has fundamentally remained a particularly decorative union of brushstrokes and dashes, lines and dots for each character.

This has developed into an art form in addition to being a system of communication. Procedures for handling brush, ink and paper require appropriate body postures and writing techniques need to be learnt, practised and eventually mastered.

Conceived as embodiment or embodied image, the art of calligraphy reveals exemplary patterns. Through the movement of the body, natural rhythms of the cosmos and man are observed and presented in calligraphic forms that were seen as energetic extensions of the body and, by the late Han period (25-220 AD), as an expression of the mind.

Although some scholars argue about the pictograph being the origin of the Chinese written character, it is a fact that the language is taught by that method to this day. Auspicious banners and paper cuts with painted ink and incised decorative messages and motifs are placed in public places and in homes to encourage good fortune and celestial blessings at New Year.

In keeping with this custom many lucky folk who attended the New Year dinner received hand painted symbols of "fook", or good fortune in black ink on red paper painted by Chiang, a visitor from the Taiwanese port city of Kaohsiung.

The link between calligraphy and the fine arts is fascinating with Spanish painter Picasso quoted to have once said "had I been born Chinese I would have been born a calligrapher, not a painter".

The poetic or aesthetic quality that determines the artistic priority of calligraphy as an embodied image in China is compared by some scholars to the poetic image as conceived by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard in his The Poetics |of Space. …