Sunday, May 13, 2007

'The Idea in the Brush and the Brush in the Idea'

Selected from the article by Ching Ying and originally published in Phyllis Johnson's legendary Aspen Magazine (No. 10, 01971) . . .

'The essence of beauty in calligraphy is movement — the brush strokes stretch and sweep, crouch and spring, ink tones swell and diminish, shapes expand and contract. "Line after line should have a way of giving life, character after character should seek for life-movement," an anonymous calligrapher once wrote.' . . . 'Every tiny stroke of a piece of calligraphy has the energy of a living thing. Every stroke after it has fallen from the brush, must lie on the paper without correction; touching up would destroy its life. There is a saying that a stroke should be started with a force great enough to move a mountain and end with some of it still left.' . . . 'The speed of the stroke is another important factor — every stroke is composed of alternating quick and slow movements. As Li Si, in what is attributed to be the earliest writing on technique, described the correct use of the brush: "Give it a quick turn first and then bring it down swiftly like a hawk after a bird. Let it proceed naturally and do not work it over. The advance of the brush is as free as a swimming fish in water, and the swing of it, as rising clouds over a great mountain."
As he indicates, the beauty is of plastic movement, not of designed and motionless space. Each character should have a stable stance with a gesture of movement and the center of gravity falls upon the base. One side may be larger or denser but the whole still must not overbalance. An asymmetrical balance is sought since it possesses more movement. This is achieved by the imaginary plotting of the character upon a nine-fold square, invented by some ingenious writer of the Yang dynasty. If the square were divided in half or in fours, the result would be symmetrical, but the nine-fold square permits balanced asymmetry.'

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