A5: How to Choose a Chinese Calligraphy Teacher





How to Choose a Teacher?

1. Those who master in only one calligraphy style are One-Style Teachers.

2. Those who abide in only a calligrapher’s method are Self-Biased Teachers.

3. Those who master several styles are Multi-Stylists. (Note 1)

4. Those who are knowledgeable of many calligraphersmethods are Teachers of Knowledge.

5. Those who are good at teaching skills are Teachers of Calligraphy.

6. Those who are good at interpreting theories are Teachers of Theories.

7. Those who are good at transmitting mental methodologies are Masters of Heart.

A master who is good at all the last five qualifications is a Master of Chinese Calligraphy, Tao, and Zen. He is also a Master of Enlightenment. However, every master is qualified for his own specialty. We may learn different specialties from them by paying respectful visits.  



Choosing to Be A Multi-Style Chinese Calligrapher

If one ever chooses to be a multi-stylist in Chinese calligraphy, one has to realize “technique” is the most essential requirement for one's goal.  

In the 19th century, Franz Liszt was unanimously recognized as the greatest pianist by almost all pianists, musicians, composers, and critics even though he might have equals like Anton Rubinstein, Thalberg, and Tausig. Though Chopin was known as "the poet of piano,” he was never a brilliant pianist due to his physical conditions.

One night when Liszt and Chopin were invited to play at a salon, the audiences liked their styles – Liszt had a superb technique and Chopin was very, very poetic. So they decided to let both masters play again with the candles off. After they played, almost everybody agreed Chopin played twice!

Liszt then added a comment, “Chopin plays like Chopin; Liszt plays like Liszt and he can also play like Chopin!” Moriz Rothensal, one of Liszt’s top student and a giant in piano history, wrote, “my master can illustrate anything – “anything” on the piano.”

Josef Hoffman wrote that “technique” is the best “bank account” a pianist can draw from. Likewise, Rachmaninoff said, "technique, technique, and technique!"



In Chinese calligraphy history, say Wang Hsi-Chih and Mi Fu, they mastered many, many styles. However, the works they left to us are merely a portion of their styles or writings. Even though art emphasizes on “creating a personal style,” if we don’t absorb “humbly” the best ingredients from different calligraphy styles, we never grow in richness and essence of our calligraphy works. That why Lin Mo is indispensable and may take up to several decades or lifetime.

It’s easy to get distracted from emulating too many calligraphy masterpieces given the constraint of our time, talent, and ability. If we don’t do enough Lin Mo from ancient masterpieces, our styles that we create later won’t be worthy! But if we do too much Lin Mo from too many masterpieces, we may be criticized as “without personal style or specialty” or a "calligraphy slave." However, from those two extremes one has make a good balance for one self.

However, we need to remember that “technique” is still the most essential requirement. With adequate level of technique, we may decide how many styles or masterpieces we want to study and develop the effective and efficient ways to practice. Only after a broad study, one may “narrow down” and keep the “best ingredients” from other artists to create one's unique style. On the contrary, without enough technique one has no available funds to draw from his account!


“In my own development as an artist, it has been made evident to me, time and time again, that success comes from the careful observance of details.” ~ Ferruccio B. Busoni


“The ancient masterpieces and you alone are your best lifetime Chinese calligraphy teachers!”  

Note 1: If you choose to be a multi-stylist in Chinese calligraphy, I suggest that you organize all Model Books, brushes, papers, and ink sticks systematically. You may assign numbers to brushes, from the smallest to the largest ones for each Model Book. And then write down the “satisfaction level” of each brush that fits each individual Model Book, style, and size.

The following is my personal way of assigning numbers to brushes for calligraphy and painting:

000-050: small and extra fine brushes

051-100: brushes for small and medium sized characters

101-150: regular sized brushes that are most frequently used





501-600: brushes that are suitable for writing a character between 15" x 15" to 20"x 20"


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