Philosophy About Chinese Calligraphy

P8: The Picture of Soul

如何知「字如其人」?How to read a person through his calligraphy?  


If the mind and brush are united, the writing is calligraphy. If the Ying and Yang are combined, it's called the Tao. Thus, those who talk about the Tao of Chinese Calligraphy emit a self-image naturally from their hearts. If the person is not in accordance with this natural law, what he writes is not what his heart desires to communicate. The mouth (or writing) does not follow the heart. So we say Chinese calligraphy is the self-image of one's heart.



Liu Shi-Zai in his “The Concept of Art” said, “Chinese calligraphy resembles one’s personality, talent, and will. It resembles oneself.” He also said, “The calligraphy of the sages look warm and pure; the calligraphy of the handsome and masculine people look calm and willful; the calligraphy of the skillful hermits look sharp and direct; the calligraphy of the talented look elegant and wise.” He further said, “The way to elevate one’s spirit starts from the holding the brush; the mind will be enlightened if the operation of the brush is correct. If one’s heart is upright, his calligraphy will inherit the personalities and spirits of the ancient masters and sages. If he practices calligraphy diligently, the spirits of ancient calligraphers will be in the core of the brush with beautiful writings flowing underneath. Then his calligraphy will be remembered.”



Thus, Chinese calligraphy is not just inheritance of “skills with black strokes and white spaces.” It’s an inheritance of spirit and legacy of human being.



Not only Chinese calligraphy requires an artist to open his inner spiritual ears and eyes. Many forms of arts such as painting or music also require deep observation of inner images or listening to the inner voice. The following are sayings of masters regarding the observing and listening to one self:


“It’s better to learn from the Nature than ancient masters. And it’s even better to learn from the source of heart than the Nature.” ~ Fan Kuan (  )

老子說:「故道大,天大,地大,王亦大。域中有四大,而王居其一焉。人法地,地法天,天法道,道法自然。」(《老子》第25章)如果我們「人」以「地」為法,「地」以「天」為法,「天」以「道」為法,而「道」以「自然」為法,我們「人」就和「道」,就和「天」,就和「地」都沒有矛盾,主觀和客觀就完全統一,就達到「天人合一」,就和「自然」達到高度的一致,就和「道」達到高度的一致,這就叫做「四大一心」。「四大」其實就是「一大」 -- 「道大」,因為「天」、「地」、「人」都統一於「道」了,都統一於「法」了。



“The nature of the mind is like a mirror which has the natural and inherent capacity to reflect whatever is set before it, whether beautiful or ugly; but these reflections in no way affect or modify the nature of the mirror. It is the same with the state of contemplation: There is nothing to correct or alter or modify. What the practitioner does when entering into contemplation is simply to discover himself in the condition of the mirror” ~ Namkhai Norbu


“Just as we cannot talk of visual beauty if we are blind, so we cannot discuss inner spiritual beauty if we have never received it.” ~ Plotinus


“Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the arts that have influenced us. To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then, and then only, does it come into existence.” ~ Oscar Wilde


Rachmaninoff was made of steel and gold; steel in his arms, gold in his heart.” ~ Josef Hofmann


Franz Liszt – ah, you see I bow when I mention the name – you never heard Franz Liszt? Ah, it was the great Liszt who listened – listened to his inner voice. They said he was inspired. He was simply listening to himself.” ~ Vladimir de Pachmann


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