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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:03

Video transcript

"I have no desire for wealth or noble rank. My only love is for those letters from the brushes of the men of antiquity." Mi Fu, 11th century. Appreciating Chinese calligraphy without being able to read Chinese may sound difficult. What is one to look for? Everyone can appreciate the abstract quality of the line in Chinese calligraphy. The energy present at the moment of writing is visible in the finished piece. Changes of speed and force in the handling of the brush create a rhythm which observers can follow, almost like the moves of a dance. Red seals contrast with the black ink and enliven  the composition. They are not only the seals of the artist, but of owners and collectors as well. The more is esteemed a piece, the greater number of seals can be found. Brush, paper, ink, and ink stone were called, "The Four Treasures" of the scholar's studio. To be able to compose poetry and write calligraphy was an ideal most learned Chinese strove to achieve. John Way [Wei Le Tang, 魏樂唐] has been practicing the art of writing for most of his life. He is one of the contemporary masters of calligraphy. Here, Mr. Way is writing the character for "tiger" in four of the major styles of calligraphy. In the oldest style, which is almost 4,000 years old, the tiger is still easily recognizable. Several hundred years later, the character has evolved into a completely abstract shape. The character fits neatly into an imaginary square. Each stroke is executed carefully. When written quickly, strokes blend together and the character becomes almost illegible, but very dramatic. Many calligraphers favor this style because of its expressive qualities. The last style to be developed originated around 2100 years ago. It is the style used in everyday writing, even for neon signs in bustling cities. All these styles are still practiced today. This makes Chinese the oldest writing in continuous use, with a history spanning almost 4,000 years. But not every written Chinese character is a piece of art. It takes many years of training and copying of ancient examples to become a calligrapher. When executed by a true master, calligraphy is not only beautiful writing, but the way it is written offers a glimpse of the character and temperament of the artist. Few works of art are able to establish such an intimate relationship between the artist and the viewer, which is one reason why calligraphy has been held in such high esteem over such a long period of time.