The “Vanishing” Street Art of Chinese Calligraphy

June 19, 2011

Chinese calligraphy is not vanishing. What I’m talking about is demonstrated in the videos included with this post. In China, many artists use sidewalks as a canvas and a brush with water to paint the beauty of calligraphy. As the water evaporates, the art vanishes.

In fact, calligraphy is more popular than ever. After the Cultural Revolution, many people turned to calligraphy in the hope of finding solace in the calm repetition of its exercises. Then, in 1981, the authorities took the lead in setting up a Chinese Calligraphers’ Association, the first such nationwide body ever to be established in the country. Source: Fathom.com, The British Museum

Both a language and an art, Chinese calligraphy has been traced back more than 4,000 years to the crude form called “Jia Gu Wen” found on turtle shells from the Shang Dynasty.

Calligraphy first bloomed as an art during the Han Dynasty but by the time of the Tang Dynasty, it had declined as an art. Source: Chinese Calligraphy History

It would be difficult to talk about Chinese art without understanding Chinese calligraphy and its artistic inspiration. A painting has to convey an object, but a well-written character conveys only its beauty through line and structure.

In Shanghai on sidewalks, or Beijing at The Summer Palace, I’ve watched men with long handled brushes, as seen in the first video, using water for ink and concrete for paper. With grace, they exhibit the skills of a Rembrandt breathing life into the characters.

America’s so called street artists should copy the Chinese that practice calligraphy and trade in their cans of spray paint for brushes and water, which would save US taxpayers much money.

Lin Yutang writes in My Country and My People that Western art is more sensual, more passionate, fuller of the artist’s ego, while the Chinese artist and art-lover contemplates a dragonfly, a frog, a grasshopper or a piece of jagged rock—more in harmony with nature.

Owing to the use of writing calligraphy with a brush, which is more subtle and more responsive than the pen, calligraphy as art is equal to Chinese painting.

Through calligraphy, the scholar is trained to appreciate, as regards line, qualities like force, suppleness, reserved strength, exquisite tenderness, swiftness, neatness, massiveness, ruggedness, and restraint or freedom.

Maybe this helps explain why the Chinese are not as warlike as Christian and Islamic cultures.

This revised and edited post first appeared on July 3, 2010 as Caressing Nature with Chinese Calligraphy

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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