calligraphy in decline

“Many people are saying that Chinese characters and Chinese calligraphic art is in a life-or-death crisis,” begins an article on the state of calligraphy in contemporary China.

One factor contributing to the decline of the popularity of calligraphy is the fact that fewer and fewer Chinese characters are being written by hand. And without regular practice writing characters, people are forgetting how to write many of them as they now have computerization to help with character input.

In an academic seminar held last week at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, many Chinese experts and artists expressed their concerns about the future of the millennia-old Chinese characters and Chinese calligraphic art….

Wu Zhenfeng, a researcher with the Shaanxi Provincial Art Museum, said that many Chinese calligraphers today are not as knowledgeable in the arts as previous generations of calligraphers, for instance in classical Chinese literature.

Although the “kids these days just aren’t as knowledgeable as they used to be” line is a cliche, in this case it’s almost certainly true.

It is true that the practical functions of calligraphy are decreasing and calligraphy is getting far away from the daily lives of ordinary people. However, “calligraphy, as a vital part of art education, should be strengthened rather than weakened in China’s primary education and at the university level,” said Li Yi, a researcher with the National Research Institute of Chinese Arts.

This is roughly the Chinese equivalent of people in Britain saying, “Bring back compulsory Latin.” The trouble is there are only so many hours even Chinese children can study. And keep in mind that they already have to spend more time in what might be called basic language classes than their counterparts in the West because Chinese characters are a tremendously more difficult script than the Roman alphabet. So what exactly is going to get dropped?

After the Cultural Revolution, interest in calligraphy revived, and about 100 magazines and newspapers devoted to the art sprung up. But today, the number of calligraphy-related publications “has dwindled sharply as fewer people care about the art form,” the article notes.

Most graduates of a doctoral program in calligraphy opened in 1993 at Capital Normal University in Beijing are unable to make a living as professional calligraphers, unlike calligraphers of two decades ago, according to Ye Peigui, an art researcher and one of the first graduates of the program.

Chen Lusheng, a researcher with the National Art Museum of China, said that Chinese calligraphy is the very essence of Chinese culture and philosophy.

“The question of the sustainability of Chinese calligraphy is actually the question of the sustainability of Chinese culture,” he said.

If that’s so, Chinese culture is in real trouble.

He criticized the excessive use of Chinese calligraphy art as a resource in recent years by some “vanguard” Chinese artists. This practice caused misunderstanding and distorted perceptions among average viewers about Chinese calligraphy.

Those darn kids, trying to make something new again.

source: Calligraphic art faces predicament, China Daily, November 10, 2005.

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