Author Topic: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time  (Read 21619 times)

Offline FrenchBlue Joy

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Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« on: January 14, 2014, 04:06:51 PM »
[Moderator note: This is a continuation of a conversation started under the Martha Stewart modern exemplar topic. It has been moved here for further discussion.]

(Joy's Note:  Hi guys, before you read my comments here I would just like you to understand the context in which I made these comments. We had been talking about a DIY article in Martha Stewart Weddings which said that calligraphy is easy to do and made up of very simple strokes, not difficult, etc etc. So that's what I'm talking about when I go on to say, here, that I think Martha Stewart is tapping into a major trend at the moment.  Thanks)


I wonder though, if MS isn't picking up on a something that truly is rattling around in the zeitgeist right now...  It's kind of hard to define, but there definitely surge of do-it-yourself, kind of (for lack of a better word) amateurish aesthetic that really is popular at the moment. 

A lot of calligraphy enthusiasts are not bothering to study the letterforms, not bothering to master the difficult strokes that it (usually) takes years to learn.  For example, to be able to correctly execute the universal line of beauty, which Paul Antonio discusses in this video:

http://vimeo.com/28862864

It's actually really hard to master these strokes!  It takes time and practice and dedication. 

I'm sometimes confused as to how I feel about "modern calligraphy".  I love whimsy and I love originality, but I really believe the best contemporary calligraphy comes from those who have spent some time with the classics. 

Right now there's a lot of encouragement out there to skip all that, and a lot of people are running with that advice.  Perhaps Martha Stewart is just following suit. 


« Last Edit: January 16, 2014, 01:23:33 AM by FrenchBlue Joy »

Offline Linda Y.

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2014, 05:28:42 PM »
Joy,

Thank you, for sharing what I've been thinking about but have been having a hard time forming into words!

I cannot agree with you more. I think it's fantastic there is so much interest in modern calligraphy - and you're absolutely right that it definitely has something to do with the DIY movement/resurgence. I often wonder though, if there's a line in the sand that you cross when a mere "hobby" turns into something more serious. Is that when a DIY calligraphy enthusiast joins their local guild, starts studying exemplars of past masters and learns from the "living treasures" that have been practicing calligraphy for 30+ years?

I have been studying with a wonderful teacher for 2+ years now, and even though friends/family/etc tell me how great my calligraphy looks (and I am ever so thankful for their encouragement), I am observant enough to know I still have a longggg way to go. I don't just want to be "good enough" to get by, I want to be a good calligrapher! In the past two years, modern calligraphy has gone leaps and bounds in terms of popularity and exposure - and my teacher has actually said she has decided not going to offer copperplate classes in the near future because "there is so much bad pointed pen calligraphy online." She often gets inquiries from people who want to "master" pointed pen in one class!

This is such an interesting topic. Would love to hear more thoughts on it.


« Last Edit: January 14, 2014, 05:43:57 PM by Linda Y. »

Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2014, 05:41:17 PM »
This is a very good topic which definitely warrants further exploration. I'm tempted to move it to a new topic though as it is "off topic" from this one. I did want to comment though the Martha Stewart comment was from 2001! And she has done nothing but feature more and more calligraphy ever since!  ;D

There is a subtle but fine line (or a world of difference depending upon your perspective) between "modern calligraphy" and contemporary calligraphy. I've touched on that topic in a few places. Linda, I think though, it is backwards to not offer copperplate classes because of the mass modern calligraphy flying around. Wouldn't it make more sense to offer a firm foundation of classic copperplate classes to ground it? JMHO (obviously given the forum lessons!)  ;)
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Offline Linda Y.

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2014, 05:58:42 PM »
Linda, I think though, it is backwards to not offer copperplate classes because of the mass modern calligraphy flying around. Wouldn't it make more sense to offer a firm foundation of classic copperplate classes to ground it? JMHO (obviously given the forum lessons!)  ;)


Exactly! I told my teacher it's even more important to offer "foundational" and classic copperplate classes right now, given its popularity. But she is more of an artist and would rather teach something she loves that's more obscure rathern than teaching something that's popular at the moment... :)

Offline FrenchBlue Joy

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2014, 08:22:24 AM »
Yes, I guess what I mean is that people who have spent time studying the classic letterforms and trying to perfect the strokes, are kind of like martial artists who have trained their bodies to efficiently and expertly accomplish a movement--  I think calligraphers have to train their bodies, too.  Even if you want to invent an entirely new alphabet, or do something completely different, whether you're writing straight up and down or at a slant, whether you're writing with a brush or a pen or stick in the sand...  The muscle memory that gets developed when a calligrapher has studied the difficult forms to the point of mastering them will always show later, even when the alphabet is totally contemporary.  Their flourishes will look more effortless, their hairlines won't be shaky... 

I'm reading a book right now about a French artist named Fabienne Verdier, who spent 10 years in China being initiated to the art of calligraphy.  Her teacher had her spend ONE YEAR drawing a simple line, until she could master it and imbue it with all the grace and perfection possible.  It wasn't until she trained for a few years, and *embodied* that training, that she began to paint her characters in a more abstract way.  The book speaks at length about the importance of studying the masters and trying to learn from them. 

Oooh okay, I should listen to that advice and do some studying!  :)  What's the rule?  10,000 hours?  We'll get there, Linda!   ;D ;D

Offline Lori M

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2014, 02:02:05 PM »
As a beginner with a former broad pen background, I admit I've been tempted to just jump in and start doing my "own" style of pointed pen calligraphy. But I hold myself back because of the old design rule:  know what the rules are before you break them, and have a good reason for doing so. I agree wholeheartedly with you Erica -- the classic forms are the place to start. And a person who has a solid foundation in the classic letter forms is going to create contemporary calligraphy that is significantly different (and most likely of better quality) from someone who doesn't.

The good thing about the DIY surge is that it is bringing more attention to calligraphy. These days, with cursive being dropped from schools, I'm grateful for anything that brings attention to script period!
« Last Edit: January 15, 2014, 02:15:38 PM by Lori M »

Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2014, 05:14:50 PM »
Yes, Joy and Lori, those are good points. To me, there are really two distinct styles. Of course, now the two have become synonyms but there is a distinction in my mind.

The first is "contemporary" calligraphy which is using traditional calligraphy skills in a more contemporary, freer style which breaks some of the rules but still maintains good letterform. Contemporary greeting cards are (usually) a good example.

"Modern" calligraphy can be a variation of that but more or less uses calligraphy tools to produce a script that is either a form of the person's own handwriting or their own, untrained version or interpretation of calligraphy.

Both versions can be beautiful. Some of my favorite lettering styles are completely individual styles made up by artists with no formal training in calligraphy. I do not discourage either because to me it would be like discouraging someone who wants to be an illustrator from teaching themselves to draw or a photographer not to take as many photographs as they can in the hope to develop their own style. Eventually, if they are serious about learning those art forms, they will seek some method of formal training. But they may also discover they have this very cool style which is completely unique and beautiful and like nothing anyone has ever done!

What I don't want to see happen is what happened in the professional photography business. So many people jumped on board before they were ready to be a "professional" (whatever that means). What happened in the process was the value of "professional photography" was greatly hindered. The market is broad and many people can't see the difference in quality. It is true this creates many markets which is great. But when the market eventually becomes saturated, or hinders the perception of quality work, it hurts everyone. I have seen some very talented photographers lose their business in the past two or three years because of this.

Right now calligraphy is experiencing a huge explosion in terms of interest. Which I LOVE! So I want to encourage anyone and everyone who wants to learn it. But I also want to encourage good letterforms, good design, and not muddy the integrity of classical/traditional calligraphy in the process. And even if they don't want to pursue traditional calligraphy, learning good letterforms will always improve a modern style. It strengthens your skills, your control, and your confidence which in turn strengthens the quality of your lines.

As anyone who has tried it can attest, it takes years to reach a certain level of skill. I refrain from using the word master as very few people will ever master calligraphy. I consider myself somewhere in the middle-to-upper skill level and that is after 30+years of practice. So while I call myself a professional calligrapher and someone else who just started learning calligraphy last year calls themselves a professional calligrapher, we both offer very different products and have different customers.

Many people feel this popularity of calligraphy is a passing trend that will eventually fade away. Only time will give us that answer. I hope it isn't. But if it is, my biggest fear is that it brings the appreciation for fine hand lettering with it.
Truly, Erica
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Offline FrenchBlue Joy

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2014, 01:35:56 AM »
Yes, master is too strong word to use.  Except maybe when we're talking about actual Master Penman! :)

You articulated it really well, Erica.  Like you, I just hope the super mega trend of "new" hand lettering and its particular DIY aesthetic doesn't suddenly go out as quickly as it came in, and take all interest for hand lettering away with it.  I mean, I hope it's not just a fad.  Destined to go the way of avian art and antlers. :)

Offline Lori M

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2014, 02:36:33 AM »
Quote
Destined to go the way of avian art and antlers.

Or (soon, I'm guessing), chevrons, hexagons, and foxes. (All of which I like.)

 I hate to be a pessimist, but I expect that calligraphy will not remain at the height of popularity that it currently is. It seems like trends come and go more and more quickly. But to me, calligraphy is like a classic fashion style -- it may rise and fall in popularity, but it is never really "out" of style.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2014, 02:40:39 AM by Lori M »

Offline kshort

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2014, 08:54:08 AM »
I'm reading a book right now about a French artist named Fabienne Verdier, who spent 10 years in China being initiated to the art of calligraphy.  Her teacher had her spend ONE YEAR drawing a simple line, until she could master it and imbue it with all the grace and perfection possible.  It wasn't until she trained for a few years, and *embodied* that training, that she began to paint her characters in a more abstract way.  The book speaks at length about the importance of studying the masters and trying to learn from them.

FrenchBlue - the book you're describing sounds really interesting... could you please post the title/name of author? I'd love to read it if I can get my hands on it.
-Karen

Offline FrenchBlue Joy

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #10 on: January 16, 2014, 09:14:44 AM »
I wish there were a "like" feature for individual posts!  I like foxes too, Lori-- and I totally agree.  ;)

Offline FrenchBlue Joy

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2014, 09:24:48 AM »
Hi Karen (Kshort)!

Yes, the book is really interesting!  Do you read French?  It's called "Passagère du Silence" by Fabienne Verdier.  I wonder if it's been translated into English.  *off to amazon.com*

Oh, it seems to be available in English translation under the title The Dragon's Brush: The Journey to China in Search of a True Master, but amazon lists it at over $300!   :o

Offline Perfectsettings

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #12 on: January 16, 2014, 10:49:47 AM »
Erica, I love your analogy about professional photographers!  My daughter is a photographer that is formally trained.  She often loses wedding jobs to "Aunt Betty" that "does it on the side."  It's a source of frustration.  Before the point and clicks was the movie "The Wedding Planner."  Wedding planners were coming out of the woodwork and it was driving all the professional wedding coordinators mad.  Literally!  So I get it.  In more ways than one.  That's why I'm here.  I often get involved in a lot of learning projects because I'm a firm believer of doing your footwork and being thoroughly informed.   As I said before, I'm a forum worshiper.  I love that there are places where the REAL pros can give advice on what to and not to do. 
Daisy
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Offline kshort

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #13 on: January 16, 2014, 01:19:48 PM »
FrenchBlue,
Yikes! Unfortunately I can't speak or read French very well... I guess I'm going to have to wait until it becomes more readily available... either that or buy a French/English dictionary and translate it myself word by word haha.

Yeesh, that's really incredible - the French translation (Passagere du Silence) is only $46.60 on Barnes and Noble, and even cheaper on sites like Abebooks etc...

Oh well... C'est la vie ;)
-Karen

Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Modern Calligraphy, Skill, and the Test of Time
« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2014, 02:57:11 PM »

Or (soon, I'm guessing), chevrons, hexagons, and foxes. (All of which I like.)

 I hate to be a pessimist, but I expect that calligraphy will not remain at the height of popularity that it currently is. It seems like trends come and go more and more quickly. But to me, calligraphy is like a classic fashion style -- it may rise and fall in popularity, but it is never really "out" of style.

Yes - exactly - or ombre or ... One of the downsides of Pinterest and World Wide Web... anything truly unique that is decent doesn't stand half a chance at staying unique! Of course, I LOVE having instant access to all the goodies so perhaps it will just push us to be more and more creative.

However, what you say is true - it does contribute to fads tremendously. I agree with your sentiment that calligraphy is a classic and will always be valued.
Truly, Erica
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