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Track of Movement and Rhythm of Change
 

Track of Movement and Rhythm of Change

- Probe into Roots of Aesthetic Elements for Chinese Traditional Calligraphy

 

By Dongfang Yu

 

Sometimes, I hear such sayings: “I can’t understand this calligraphy work”. I feel baffled: understanding is a course of thought, but Chinese calligraphy is a visual art, which reaches the bottom of the heart through visual perception without thinking process; the value of a work depends on your very own sense. Through communication, I know that they are confused by the works made by some well-known calligraphers: I don’t feel it good-looking, and is there any problem with my sensibility on earth?

 

The human visual aesthetic, especially for those abstract art such as Chinese calligraphy, is easily affected by various outside factors. I made such an experiment: I took a photo of a calligraphy work made by a well-known calligrapher and delete the his name from the photo, and I told others: this is my work, and then every one can find some faults; on the contrary, when I pointed at my handwriting and told others: this is a work made by some calligraphist, no one dared challenge my works.

 

So, we know that the aesthetic of may people for Chinese calligraphy is elusive, and susceptible to some outside factors. Facing such a colorful, diversified calligraphy world, especially those mysterious calligraphy theories, I had ever been confused for a long time.

 

Is our aesthetic for calligraphy really so difficult to fathom? I had ever been obsessed by several questions: as an art of line presented in form of character, why can Chinese calligraphy bring sense of beauty? Are those successful works of various schools following any common ultimate principles? In other words, which key elements are indispensable to successful calligraphy works?

 

We often talk about aestheticism (appreciation of beauty), but what is beauty? From the point of Chinese etymology, the term “beauty”, namely” in Chinese character, is composed of a” and a “”, which is an adult and fat goat. In ancient times when the subsistence was extremely hard, an adult goat might be an emblem of delicious food. By combining the two characters, our Chinese ancestors created a new character, which denotes “delicious”, standing for a quality that can delight our taste sense. Later, the meaning of this character gradually extended to all characters that can delight our sense organs.

 

Having known what is “beauty”, we may recognize “aestheticism” easily: human inclination toward and pursuit of any quality that can delight our visual perception.

 

In order to probe further into our inherent aesthetic requirements and tendency, we have to examine ourselves. As we know, we human being are part of the nature, and our spontaneous movements are in harmony with the nature: the earth is revolving around the sun and rotating around its axis at a certain rhythm, which causes rotation of four seasons and alternation of days and nights; thus many natural factors including air temperature, moisture content, sunshine are changing continuously. In addition, both such motion and the natural changes caused by it follow some law, and this law is the very rhythm. What’s rhythm? Rhythm is a rule by which a motion state occurs repeatedly at certain intervals. Rhythm occurs everywhere: the activity of sunspots, the revolution of earth and the rotation of four seasons; similarly, as a part of the nature, human being also follows the same law. In social evolution, “an empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide”; in production and living, people cultivate in spring and harvest in autumn; and in human bodies, our breath, pulse, blood circulation, and our steps are all made at certain rhythm.

 

Then, as a kind of spiritual activity for a certain art, does our aesthetic for Chinese calligraphy have any inherent relation with the above-mentioned changes and rhythm?

 

With which general qualities can a calligraphy work satisfy our aesthetic requirements or, in other words, delight our visual sense? We have to understand the essence of calligraphy. No matter what the result of writing is, calligraphy can be deemed as a track on a plane of a writing brush moved by person. In such a sense, the essence of calligraphy is movement. This is just like music: music is a track in a certain space of vibration of air as a result of movement of musical instruments. Therefore, Chinese calligraphy and music are identical in essence. Both arts are track of movement that can reach the bottom of heart through sense organs; and the effect of the two kinds of art are directly determined by the course of movement, which is irreversible. The arts of such essence also include dance, rhythmic gymnastics and etc. In comparison with the above-mentioned arts, what the sculpture, Chinese painting and practical art (including artistic text) pursue are not the course of practise, but the final result or effect alone; when practising such arts, alteration or correction may be conducted in the course; but for music, calligraphy, dance or gymnastics, such alteration or correction may not be done, because the course is the very effect. Because of such common essence of music and calligraphy, we may find some characters by analyzing those of music.

 

Music is a kind of activity in which persons vibrate instruments and thus cause the density of air to change at certain rhythm, and then such change delights human hearing sense. Strength is the primary factor of movement. When we play any musical instruments, we must stretched tight or control our breath firstly, and when we are singing, we must stretch our vocal cord tight, so as to keep the strength of vibration and maintain the quality of voice. The second factor is change. This is simple to understand: a voice remaining at the same frequency will be boring to everyone. The third one is rhythm. Without rhythm, the voice will become noise; the sound spectrum of noise and music tells us that the acoustic wave of noise is irregular, sharp lines and meanwhile that of music is regular, mellow lines just like parabola. Then, it may be concluded that only those movements in conformity with Laws of Nature may delight the sense of human being.     

 

Similarly, as a kind of movement, Chinese calligraphy must conform with such rules: strength, change and rhythm. The strength takes the form of tension of strokes, which results from the movement of writing brush at a certain speed. Without strength, strokes will be as weak as cotton thread and the whole fond will become a person without bones; and beauty is simply impossible. In addition, there are some opposite dynamics: touching paper lightly or strongly, moving brush slowly or fast, using ink in thick or dense state, writing strokes in hollow or solid state, turning lines in a curviform or angle, ending a stroke in a restrained or bold and untrammelled state, etc. such dynamics must be adopted in turn at some rhythm. Only by such means, may a calligrapher write in comfort; only by following such rules, may a calligraphy work delight our visual sense.

 

To be sure, it is not that a work conforming to the foregoing three rules is an excellent calligraphy work. Such three rules are common nature of some arts. In addition, as manifestation of Chinese characters, calligraphy must comply with the requirements concerning characters. Firstly, the established composition must be observed, and secondly, the structure must be well-balanced and stand in a steady posture. Without such qualities, it may not be deemed as Chinese calligraphy and beauty is completely a tree without roots.

 

To some extent, aestheticism is divine, just like our hearing sense, visual sense and taste; it is an inherent sensibility from our sense organs. When a baby hears an electric saw cutting bricks, he will fidget, but when he hears music at the same decibel, perhaps he will dance in joy. An excellent calligrapher will actively seek and conform to the aesthetic laws. From the very beginning of its existence, every step and advance made by previous calligraphers were their exploration into aestheticism of ourselves. A fine calligraphy work must be in conformity with our divine aestheticism, and just as Huangshan Mountain, can bring us self-evident beauty at first glance.

 

With divine aestheticism, we should rely on our own eyes. By knowing some basic aestheticism rules of Chinese calligraphy, we can improve our sensibility. Such rules may help us to see through those ugly works disguised as newfangled, individual characteristics, so as to avoid being misguided. If not complying with the basic aesthetic rules, such works will be ugly after all, no matter what banner they are put under. For such ugly works, we must be bold enough to ignore all outside factors: we do not accept any work only because an emperor praised it or it is auctioned for high prices. We must find and appreciate beauty with our eyes.