Calligraphy: Word Art & The History of Expression

daily inktober

It’s the end of October which means little children dress up as adorable creatures and eat infinite amounts of candy while adults drink pumpkin spiced (spiked) lattes.  The end of October tells us Fall has officially arrived, summer gear gets tucked away,  and retailers begin displaying Christmas fare.  The end of this month also brings an end to "Inktober" - the artistic initiative started by Mr. Jake Parker in 2009, where artists from all over the world take on ink-sketched daily drawing challenges. Each day marks a theme, with October 31st expressed as "Friend".  In supporting the community engagement of Mr. Parker (our friend in art), we participate in "Inktober" by recognizing on its last day, the word art of Calligraphy, and the history of artistic expression. 

Calligraphy is one of the oldest art forms, and for many years, one of the earliest means of communication in many parts of the world. Throughout the Western hemisphere, the main styles of calligraphy originated from historical texts such as the Bible, Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, Beowulf (the Anglo-Saxon poem), the romances between King Arthur and Queen Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table, and all of Greek and Latin texts. Unlike swift technology, where we have more than a million fonts to choose from, the Romans had a difficult and “painstakingly slow” time writing on wax tablets and using pens on barks.

early calligraphy collage

Religion played a huge role in the history of calligraphy, using many writing forms to enhance and advertise the word of God.  One such style was Uncial. It's form was all caps, and written with a pen characterized by straight-cut edges, with it's nib able to create round and wide lettering. The art of this writing must’ve been difficult, but not a tardy task, as it was for God, and let's face it, he waits for no one.   Uncial origins are believed to be from Old Roman cursive and was used to write Latin, Greek and Gothic.  It's form gained widespread popularity and inspired offsets in French, Spanish and Italian. 

uncial examples collage

Pictures were often incorporated in the script. This may be because before lettering, pictures or pictograhics relayed important text and communal messages. We know this commonly from Egyptian, Native Indian, and Arabic writing styles.   In pictographic styes, images represent an idea. Sometimes the image is literal, but often and over time, became more abstract.  Pictographs relayed something as simple as direction and landmarks, to more complex societal uses like the example below:

300px-Chief_Buffalo's_Petition_1849_originally_of_birch_bark.jpg

This pictographic 1849 petition was presented to the President of the United States by Chief Oshkaabewis and other Ojibwa leaders from the headwaters of the Wisconsin River and complains of broken promises int he 1837 and 1842 treaties.  The tribes are represented by their totems, martens, bear, man and catfish, led by the crane. 

The Arabic written language is beautifully and artistically intertwined within the culture.  Arabic calligraphy is used in architecture, decoration and coin design.

 
Calligraphy of the "Basmala" phrase phrase bismi-llāhi ar-raħmāni ar-raħīmi بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم in in the form of a pear. Right leaf: "Qāla allāh ta'ālā" ("The sublime God said"). Left: "Wa innahu min Sulaymān" ("And it is from Solomon" as the Basmala first apears in the Qur'an in a letter from Solomon).

Calligraphy of the "Basmala" phrase phrase bismi-llāhi ar-raħmāni ar-raħīmi بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم in in the form of a pear. Right leaf: "Qāla allāh ta'ālā" ("The sublime God said"). Left: "Wa innahu min Sulaymān" ("And it is from Solomon" as the Basmala first apears in the Qur'an in a letter from Solomon).

ARABIC COLLAGE

The Chinese has also created a huge impact of calligraphy throughout the Asian culture as well.  Unlike the Western and Arabic language, the Chinese language does not have an alphabet or phonetic system, which makes learning how to write the language extremely difficult. Each symbol has its own “character” where each word carries its own meaning. Traditional Chinese calligraphy however “reveal itself to be a moral exemplar, as well as a manifestation of the energy of the human body and the vitality of nature itself”.

chinese calligraphy strip

More than 3,000 years ago, the five basic script types were created to be used till this day. The earliest form of writing took in pictograms and ideographs which were engraved into the surface of ritual bronze vessels.

Chinese pictograph

Chinese pictograph

It then advanced into a style called the “seal” script because of its remains used on personal seals.

chinese seal script

chinese seal script

Next, the Han Dynasty regulated a new form of script introduced as lisu or “clerical” script.

chinese clerical script

chinese clerical script

During the same time period, the “running” script (xingshu) and “cursive” script (caoshu) were also created to the development of the aesthetic potential of brush and ink.

xingshu script

xingshu script

caoshu script

caoshu script

  And finally the final script was known as the “standard” script (i.e. kaishu).

kaishu script

kaishu script

Whenever and wherever you look around, the influences of Western, Arabic, and Chinese calligraphy ancestrally used are presently incorporated across cultures and in communications.  Calligraphy is a beautiful art form found in and on buildings, in paintings, and even on currency. We can definitely say that all of these examples inspire us to keep the tradition of continuously advancing the art of expression. 

BY FLORENCE SEA HEE KIM

CONTRIBUTING FROM NEW YORK, NY

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.jakeweidmann.com/
  2. https://www.calligraphy.co.uk/history-of-calligraphy/history-of-calligraphy/
  3. https://www.westerncape.gov.za/text/2005/2/sep04theartspg44-46.pdf
  4. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/03/taking-a-closer-look-at-arabic-calligraphy/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ojibwe_writing_systems
  6. https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Pictographs.pdf