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Handwriting Thread!!


aafrophone

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anonymoose

The thing about calligraphy is that it's a form of art, right? And art emphasises expressing one's own uniqueness, so personally I'd say the "correct" stroke order of 上 is an academic question, and not of central importance to one's own brush writing. If one uses the "wrong" stroke order, then the calligraphy can be appraised based on the result, and if the result is aesthetically unappealing, then it should rightfully receive a bad appraisal. But to insist that one conforms to convention is to stifle one's creativity. After all, works of many famous calligraphers can be recognised from the style of the writing, the implication being that it is distinguishable from other works, and therefore has some unique features. So does this mean the calligrapher was wrong because they didn't exactly follow prior convention? (And I'm not talking exclusively about stroke order, as that is only one variable amongst many when it comes to developing a personal style of writing.)

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anonymoose,

Calligraphy is a form of art indeed, and I am referring to an art form when I say "Chinese calligraphy," but there are many different definitions of "art" and the term is applied to so many things that they get mixed up. This causes and feeds misconceptions. For example, If A is a kind of C and B is a kind of C, that doesn't mean one can do the same with A and B and get the same results.

One kind of art is primarily meant to appeal to the senses. Another kind of art is that which can be performed at a high level. Yet another is a field of study. You are probably talking about the art that is primarily meant to appeal to the senses, where one often desires to be unique. This kind of art, when it has a basis in script, I call 文字藝術. What I'm talking about is a field of study, or something that can be performed at a high level. The study of how to write Chinese, I call 書法. One can break down this term into 書 "write" and 法 "rule", so an accurate translation of 書法 would be "writing rule." So why did I call it "Chinese calligraphy?" It is only because many people translate the study of writing Chinese as "Chinese calligraphy". They probably do not mean to do it, but when they talk about learning from such people as 二王, 歐顏柳趙, etc. (whose writings are obviously not meant to be 文字藝術), I have to conclude that they're talking about 書法.

With the definition that Chinese calligraphy is the study of how to write Chinese, one can see through a few misconceptions, including that one can learn Chinese without learning Chinese calligraphy, or that one can somehow switch one's handwriting between "normal handwriting mode" and "calligraphy mode". Every time one writes Chinese, one has to acknowledge the rules of writing Chinese. Some of them are pretty obvious. For example, the character which means "north" and is pronounced běi in Mandarin cannot be written like 比. This is analogous to being able to spell acceptably in English; one cannot write the word "rite" as "right" and have it keep the same meaning. Other rules are more obscure to most people. For example, one cannot write a hook on the second stroke of 七. Doing so would produce two 捺, which is illegal with very few exceptions.

However, there is also an artistic aspect of writing Chinese outside of 書法. This is called 妙, which is contrasted with 法. As long as writing operates within the 法, it will be accepted as correct. The famous calligraphers whose works later generations copy all vary on 妙. That is what makes them unique. At the same time, they are almost all in accord on 法. That is what makes them venerated. That doesn't mean they don't write wrong characters once in a while. Everybody does. Even 蘭亭序 has a wrong character.

In the case of stroke order, this is a matter of 法 and not of 妙, on almost all characters. I am aware that some very respected calligraphers write a few characters in orders that diverge from the norm, but the vast majority of them, including those who are considered the best, are all in accord.

So to wrap it up: Chinese calligraphy is an art, but not the art where one's purpose is primarily to please the senses, but a field of study that can be taken to a high level. Any kind of Chinese writing is based on the rules of writing Chinese, the 書法. Legal variations between writings is 妙. 法 sets wrong writing apart from correct writing, while 妙 sets someone's writing apart from someone else's writing.

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xiaocai,

Better to tell "how" than "who." There are pieces of handwriting that are considered good handwriting. If one considers all the pieces that are considered as good handwriting, one will find patterns among them. If these patterns are almost all the same, one can call them 法. Areas of more variation are then called 妙.

Hofmann, do you want to start a new topic on this and similar stroke order issues. It is interesting.

I actually feel like putting it on my blog here Can if I want as a newbie question, unless you had something in mind.

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anonymoose

Hofmann, you make some good points, and you appear to be quite au fait with the topic. As you mentioned yourself however, there are cases where certain calligraphers go against convention, which shows that even so-called 法 are not absolute.

Every time one writes Chinese, one has to acknowledge the rules of writing Chinese.

Yes, but as I'm sure you are aware, there are many characters that even native speakers don't all write with the same stroke order. Would you say those using an unconventional stroke order are wrong? I'd just say they are different.

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So good hand writing must follow 法 and 法 itself is concluded from good handwriting. That's interesting. I definitely agree that stroke orders are important. But they are not there just for people to follow, but more importantly to understand and appreciate why it is better to write in certain ways but not the others. I think calligraphy as a form of art, creativity does play an important role in it; whereas good calligraphers know how to follow the rules exactly, great calligraphers know when to break them to make the whole work aesthetically more appealing. The thing is you have to know the the rules very well first and then on the basis of that be creative in your own ways, as chinese always say 先学走路再学跑. I remember that a famous calligrapher explaining the importance of stroke order of 书法 in a video you posted on 中文角 earlier this year said the three principles of stroke order are 准确, 简捷 and 型美. So whether it looks pleasing can be a primary purpose of 书法 and is indeed one of the factors that sets the great 书法家 apart from all the rest.

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realmayo
Chinese calligraphy is an art, but not the art where one's purpose is primarily to please the senses, but a field of study that can be taken to a high level.

It seems ambitious to introduce so much space between the intellectual and the sensual given that you need to look at calligraphy and the sense of sight is, well, a sense.

Take an old, famous, venerated, much-respected, much-admired and much-imitated piece of calligraphy. Why is it "good"? Is it because it looks good? If so why? What qualities does it have that the majority of surviving works from the same era don't possess, or possess in much smaller quantities? Or: when you see it do you like it because it is a classic, a model, something that has had a profound influence on subsequent work and is held as some kind of standard? If this is the case, would you have thought it good if you had been a contemporary of its creator, or could you only see that it is good because all the learning and study ever after has said that it is good?

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Yes, but as I'm sure you are aware, there are many characters that even native speakers don't all write with the same stroke order. Would you say those using an unconventional stroke order are wrong?

There are two views I want to present on this. One is that if such stroke orders have never occurred in good handwriting before, then it is wrong. If it occasionally occurs, one can practically say it's wrong if someone uses it more than occasionally. If it is common, then of course it's right. Another view is based on principles of descriptive linguistics. That is, if native language users write a character a certain way, and other native language users are able to understand it without getting distracted, then it is correct. With this one has to see how distracting the unconventional stroke order is. As an example, I know that a lot of native speakers write 有 with 一 first. Using the first view, this is definitely wrong. Using the second view, this is definitely right (along with the 丿 first order), as I don't think most native speakers would get distracted. However, the principles of descriptive linguistics were meant to describe speech, which changes faster than writing, especially non-alphabetic scripts like Chinese. From the Tang Dynasty until now, Chinese writing has basically been the same. Only recently have there been drastic reforms. If one takes the entire history of the character 有 in the most common scripts 楷書 and 行書 into account (BTW, nobody ever writes 一 first in 草書), the usage of 一 first is still insignificant compared to 丿 first, which means it is still wrong. Later, it may be corrected, as is what happened to 初. At one time (which I can't remember clearly), it was common to write 礻 on the left. This was later corrected back to 初 by the Tang Dynasty.

whereas good calligraphers know how to follow the rules exactly, great calligraphers know when to break them to make the whole work aesthetically more appealing

You describe it like they do so freely. These "great calligraphers" find places to sacrifice accuracy (準確) in order to gain efficiency (簡捷) and/or beauty (刑美), and that is never the reason why they are recognized as great calligraphers. Even if they did not break any rules, they would still be recognized as great. 王羲之 is considered the best calligrapher, and he did not break any rules. In terms of 法, he is identical to those before him. Even his style, which is part of 妙, was pretty much the same. The only thing that set him apart from the rest was that he did it better. No one has surpassed him. Now, about the video, which is probably this. What he didn't say in that video was that accuracy is much more important than beauty. This is simple to see: If you write "north," běi like 比, and you wrote the most beautiful 比 ever, it's still a wrong character. However, if you wrote 北 and it's correct but not pretty at all, it's acceptable. It's rare for correctly written characters to be ugly. This is the 刑美 in 法, the "automatic" beauty that results when the rules are followed. All sacrifices in accuracy I can think of are done for large gains in efficiency while not sacrificing or increasing beauty.

realmayo,

Many consider 九成宮醴泉銘 by 歐陽詢 to be the best example of 楷書, or at least a good example. It's good primarily because people think it's good. People think it's good firstly (firstly!) because its characters are written correctly and secondly because they look good. It is also because other people said it's good and other reasons you mentioned, but that is unavoidable. It often take a long time for this to happen, never while the writer is still alive.

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I never meant so and the point is as what I mentioned before: good hand writing must follow 法 and 法 itself is concluded from good handwriting, so how it all started? I have very minimal knowledge of the development of different style of writing but one thing I know is that the stroke order of some characters are different in 隶书 and 行书 and 草书. So why is it like that? I think the reason behind would be much more than accuracy, be it efficiency or beauty. As for 王羲之, I don't know his story well, but apparently he among his numerous works only 30 copies have been preserved, none of them was actually written by himself. So I would make a wild conclusion here that the name 王羲之 in this sense now represents a highly refined style of chinese calligraphy rather than a real person. In 晋书 卷八十 it says that 王羲之, ......尤善隶书,为古今之冠,论者称其笔势,以为飘若浮云,矫若惊龙; in 王羲之传论, it also mentioned that 观其点曳之工,裁成之妙,烟霏露结,状若断而还连;凤翥龙蟠,势如斜而反直。玩之不觉为倦,览之莫识其端. Here we can see some examples of how his contemporaries perceived his style, which is much much more than just being "the most accurate". In the video when discussing the stroke order of 九, 田蘊章教授 stressed that 失去准确, 而且也不便捷, 尤其是是做不到形美 if you do not follow the correct order, so here we can at least infer that the three principle are equally important. And trust me, strictly following the rules will not automatically grant you good handwriting, otherwise the best calligrapher would just be a computer which memorises all the rules and trivias, kind of like 孔乙己.

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realmayo
People think it's good firstly (firstly!) because its characters are written correctly and secondly because they look good.

Fair enough: a good piece of Western classical music is firstly one in which there are no "wrong" notes, ie accidentally slipping into the wrong key, and secondly which sounds good. The first part isn't difficult after a certain amount of study and understanding; the second part is more difficult and more interesting. It strikes me that something similar is going on with calligraphy, which is why I find it hard to get comfortable with any downplaying of its appeal to a more "artistic" plane (versus, say, the satisfaction provided by a well-functioning spreadsheet).

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xiaocai

My hand writing is getting worse and worse and recently I've decided that I will stop writing shorthand and cursive now and go back to what everyone did in primary school: write characters stroke by stroke. And I've realised that it is not easy to go back either. It is kind of easy to go out of proportion when you try to write neatly. Here is my one attempt two days ago:

post-763-082152800 1307017275_thumb.jpg

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skylee

I've just made up this "poem" (unfinished). My handwriting is really getting worse ...

post-32-005232800 1307023429_thumb.jpg

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