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Chinese Culture: Chinese Calligraphy Art Essay

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Updated: Nov 3rd, 2021

Culture constitutes the basis upon which the existence of human society is founded. Being the phenomenon that distinguishes human beings from all other animal species, culture encompasses such spheres of activity as painting, sculpture, architecture, cinema, etc. However, there are specific societies in which calligraphy has acquired the status of art and a part of culture. The Chinese culture is most noted for its great attention paid to calligraphy development. The art of calligraphy is rather ancient in China and its roots go so deep in the history that there is, probably, no other form of writing that has been developing for so many centuries on. Therefore, this paper analyzes the two pieces of the Chinese calligraphy art in order to find out their cultural destinations and social significance they had for the Medieval Society and still have for the modern culture of China.

As it has already been stated, the pieces of art under consideration belong to the Chinese culture. The period in which they were created is called the Middle Ages, and the authors of the poem and a picture analyzed are Cha Shih-piao (1615-1698) and Meng Hanjiu(active late 18th c) respectively1. As the representatives of the Chinese culture, their artists paid much attention to the art of calligraphy in their creative work. The specific features of Cha Shih-piao work include the abstract representation of the world and the focus on the beauty of nature. Meng Hanjiu’s art was mainly focused on a human being and his or her relations with the outside world, nature, and other people. Therefore, the analysis of their works allows seeing the interrelation between the form and meaning, message and the image.

Thus, the original object of the pieces of art under analysis is similar to some extent. For example, the poem by Cha Shih-piao was created during one of the periods of flowering of the Chinese Brush Calligraphy Art, i. e. the rule of the Qing dynasty2; that is why this piece of art was supposed to be placed in one of the royal palaces in China to constitute the major riches of the Empire. The original context of the painting by Meng Hanjiu is also mainly cultural. The 18th was a rather fruitful period for the development of art in China, and Meng Hanjiu created his work to reflect the reality of his time3. Accordingly, the appearance of the works is as it is because calligraphy art and painting were two rather close forms of art in China, and the perfection of their composition was crucial for their success as pieces of art.

At the same time, the interrelation between the word and image and between the message and the form of the artistic works is rather important in the Chinese culture. First of all, the poem under consideration has the form of a scroll because the traditional Chinese writing is vertical and because the phenomena depicted by the author develop chronologically and there are no more or less significant ones among them. Moreover, every Chinese character has a long history (over 4000 years) and is connected with an image to some extent. Respectively, the relation of the form and message in the painting by Meng Hanjiu is also symbolic depicting a man sitting with a glass-plaited rain hat as a symbol of the simultaneous connection between the human beings and nature and their separateness from each other.

On the whole, the development of Chinese calligraphy has several stages. Dating back to the 2000s B. C., the art of the Chinese calligraphy experienced the best periods of its ancient history under the rule of Shang dynasty (1600 B.C. – 1046 B.C.), West Zhou dynasty (1046 B.C. – 771 B.C.) and especially the Qing Dynasty, whose Emperor Qin Shi Huang united the Chinese Empire in 221 B. C. and brought the arts to the peak of their development4. As for the artistic features of the calligraphy under these dynasties, they include the fast but perfectly precise brushstrokes that allow distinguishing between the numerous characters and provide the artist with the opportunity to make the strokes of the necessary thick and length.

The pieces of art under consideration can also be characterized according to these features. For example, the Chinese scroll variant of poem by Cha Shih-piao is characterized by a clear structure and visual comprehensiveness, while the technique of brush stroking is rather specific displaying both the respect to the traditions of the ancient Chinese art of calligraphy and the closeness of the author to the ordinary people as the characters are painted rather casually5. From watching the scroll it is possible to visualize everything that the author depicts – we can see the shadows of the birds, trees and the colors of autumn, while the two characters being subtracted from the three-column structure of the scroll symbolize the author sitting lonely among the beauties of autumn.

As for the painting by Meng Hanjiu, it belongs to a later historical and cultural epoch of the Chinese society development and displays some differences in its artistic features. First of all, the 18th century marked the integration of calligraphy and painting with the greater emphasis put on the latter. Therefore, we can see that the painting scroll displays a large picture of a sitting man with only minor calligraphic features in the upper part of the scroll6. However, the brush strokes are similar to the earlier calligraphic works, with their fast and precise techniques. Moreover, the Meng Hanjiu’s painting exemplifies the fact that the very details of the image were less important in calligraphy than the technique of the image performance in its outlined form7. Drawing from this, the poem scroll by Cha Shih-piao and the painting scroll by Meng Hanjiu display certain similarities and differences in their artistic features, but the ways in which the image and message are interrelated prove to be similar and common for the Chinese Brush Calligraphy Art.

To conclude, the Chinese culture is most noted for its great attention paid to calligraphy development. The art of calligraphy is rather ancient in China and its roots go so deep in history that there is, probably, no other form of writing that has been developing for so many centuries on. This paper has analyzed the two pieces of Chinese calligraphy art and has managed to find out their cultural destinations and social significance they had for the Medieval Society and still have for the modern culture of China. Although belonging to different historical epochs, the poem by Cha Shih-piao and the painting by Meng Hanjiu brightly exemplify the interrelation of image and meaning in the Chinese culture.

Bibliography

Chinese Calligraphy. “Chinese Calligraphy History.” Netfirms, 2009, Web.

Jinhui Yu and Qunsheng Peng. Realistic synthesis of cao shu of Chinese calligraphy. Zhejiang University, Hangzhou (n. d.): 1 – 10.

Krannert Art Museum, Poem Hanging Scroll, 2009.

Krannert Art Museum, Seated Figure Wearing Grass-Plaited Rain Hat Hanging scroll, 2009.

Songhua Xu, Francis C.M. Lau, et al. Automatic Generation of Artistic Chinese Calligraphy. IEEE Computer Society (2005): 32 – 39.

Footnotes

  1. Krannert Art Museum, Poem Hanging Scroll, 2009; Krannert Art Museum, Seated Figure Wearing Grass-Plaited Rain Hat Hanging scroll, 2009.
  2. Chinese Calligraphy. “Chinese Calligraphy History.” Netfirms, 2009, Web.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Chinese Calligraphy. “Chinese Calligraphy History.” Netfirms, 2009, Web.
  5. Songhua Xu, Francis C.M. Lau, et al. Automatic Generation of Artistic Chinese Calligraphy. IEEE Computer Society (2005): 32 – 39.
  6. Jinhui Yu and Qunsheng Peng. Realistic synthesis of cao shu of Chinese calligraphy. Zhejiang University, Hangzhou (n. d.): 1 – 10.
  7. Songhua Xu, Francis C.M. Lau, et al. Automatic Generation of Artistic Chinese Calligraphy. IEEE Computer Society (2005): 32 – 39.
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