Written by Sean Callahan
Calligraphy has been a central part of Chinese art for thousands of years. Emperors treasured it and those who wrote the most exceptional pieces were often rewarded with high-ranking positions and riches. However, despite the external pressure calligraphers must have felt, they had to stay centered and let their emotions flow through their brush.
The sereneness contained in the brush strokes of calligraphy are not only of great value to an admirer of calligraphy, but also hold great promise for serving as a form of meditative relief for the calligraphers themselves.
Emotion in Calligraphy
One of the most highly treasured Chinese calligraphic pieces is Yan Zhenqing’s Requiem to My Nephew. Yan Zhenqing wrote the piece upon hearing of his nephew’s death at the hands of enemy soldiers. In the throes of passion, Yan channeled his passion into ink and wrote the now-famous ode to his nephew.
Yan’s artistic running script seems to mirror the man’s emotions. An observer can see his script starts out measured and orderly before devolving into a blur of rapid, almost fanatical, strokes. The evolution of Yan’s calligraphy within this one piece gives us insight into the depths of his bereavement. His inability to stay composed for a single sitting shows that writing calligraphy is not a process devoid of emotion; rather, it is a visible, permanent, testament to emotion.
What the Science Says
Multiple scientific studies back up the idea that calligraphy is highly intertwined with emotion. Practitioners of calligraphy often see their heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure fall while writing: all effects also seen in the calming practice of meditation. The writing of calligraphy has also been shown to have positive effects on the concentration abilities of young children.
While calligraphy is by no means a catch-all antidote to the stresses of life, there is little doubt of its positive effects on our bodies and minds.
How People are Using Calligraphy to Calm
Companies and organizations are starting to catch on to the revitalized interest in calligraphy and have begun to offer classes in which participants can learn calligraphy techniques and how to use them in a meditative setting.
These classes are undoubtedly useful and convenient for many beginner-level calligraphers, but one need only to walk through a park in China to see that these companies are behind the curve in many respects. Calligraphy is a popular pastime of retired people in China—they take a bucket of water and a mop-like writing instrument outside and display their calligraphic talents on the sidewalk. These sidewalk artists often spend hours enjoying the motions and aesthetic of their writing.
Maybe we should all follow their lead during this stressful time and turn to Chinese calligraphy to calm ourselves.
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