The art of calligraphy | Cashmere Images Journal

Basharat Bashir

Among many art forms, the art of calligraphy is one of the finest forms of visual art which has retained its importance despite the changing circumstances in the art world. One of the oldest art forms known to humans, calligraphy is created with a pen, ink brushes, and other writing instruments. The word “calligraphy” is derived from the Greek words for “beauty” (kallos) and “write” (graphéine).  In fact, calligraphy is more than just beautifully written letters. Through calligraphy one can learn more about proportions, positive and negative space, perception of depth and light, but what makes it more meaningful is passion. A contemporary calligraphic practice is the knowledge of the correct form of letters and the ability to write them in an expressive, harmonious, and skillful manner so that a discerning eye will recognize such an arrangement as a work of art.

Ever since humans began to write, they have been writing with whatever tools they have, such as sharp objects, bones, and stones. For color they used vegetables, suitable for making ink and powders. The modern calligrapher enjoys the convenience of a wide variety of writing tools, as well as many possibilities. To create a work of art, the calligrapher uses different types of pens and tools according to his needs. Calligraphy pens are available in different ranges and styles with nibs which can be flat, round or pointed. There are also multi-nib pens and steel brushes that artists use in their artwork. Different types of brushes and wooden Qalams are also used.

Calligraphy has played an important role in the history of many cultures and their languages. Muslims were among those who valued calligraphy not only as an art, but also as the ultimate expression of God’s words. Ancient and holy books of many religions were handwritten in illuminated calligraphic script. Today, calligraphy continues to flourish in the form of wedding and event invitations, typographies, original hand-written logos, commissioned calligraphic art, cards, and other work involving writing.

The origin of brush calligraphy dates back to Antiquity China under the Shang Dynasty becoming more common during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) where all educated men and some women were expected to be proficient. During the Shang Dynasty, they wrote slogans and poems carved into animal bones or turtle shells for decorative purposes. Due to the lack of writing space, the characters had to be tilted slightly to fit in the given space, which could be the origin of cursive writing. After that, during the 7th century, Buddhist monks began to use it more often to copy manuscripts.

But at the same time, this art form had already started to spread throughout the world: the Romans had seized it, and began to write beautiful inscriptions in marble slabs, either in statues, signs or simply to create poems in slabs of marble. The very geometric, straight and formal lettering they used is truly a representative of ancient art today.

Arabic calligraphy is the most beautiful and famous art form and the Koran, the holy book of Islam is the finest example of literature as well as calligraphy. In the 7th century, when calligraphy reached the Islamic world, it was received with open arms. Muslims have found calligraphy to be a suitable art form that they can use to spread the message of their religion. Muslims began to write the Quran in an increasingly elegant and decorative way, and excerpts from the book with beautiful, elaborate calligraphy began to be used in other forms of art: clothing, paper, tiling, stone, jewelry, etc. This love of calligraphy ended in creating two main styles: Kufic, the older and flashier style, and Naskh, the smaller, more ornate style. Islamic calligraphy has never lost its luster over time, it has only evolved and developed and has become more popular. Nowadays, “calligraffiti”, a mixture of calligraphy and graffiti, is a popular art form in many Islamic countries. Calligraffiti is an art form that can be classified as abstract expressionism or abstract vandalism. It is defined as visual art that incorporates letters into compositions that attempt to communicate a larger message through writing that has been aesthetically altered to go beyond literal meaning. Simply put, it is the conscious effort to transform a word or group of words into a visual composition. As such, it aims to be both an aesthetic experience and a provocative art, it blends tradition and precision with a modern and unbridled self-expression. Traditional calligraphy in the Islamic world is subject to very strict rules, including a ban on the use of representations of the human form in manuscripts, calligraphy artists free themselves from these rules and allow themselves to reshape and deconstruct letters as well. than to combine them with other symbols and figures in a creative way. Calligraffiti artists don’t limit themselves to using actual letters. Instead, they go beyond just transforming Arabic or English words into visual compositions and inventing new languages.

In the West, after the Romans, reading and writing were banned from the masses and became a sign of nobility. Thus, calligraphy was also limited to royalty only. Kings and other royals ordered monks to copy books in an elegant and intricate fashion to show off their power and luxury. Books later got hold of the masses again in the 1400s when Guttenberg invented the first movable-type printer. He used letters with small adornments instead of simple letters, demonstrating that humans value beauty above all else.

Indian calligraphy was mostly used to write religious scriptures. Buddhist monastic communities had members trained in calligraphy and shared responsibility for duplicating sacred scriptures. Jain traders incorporated illustrated manuscripts celebrating Jain saints. These manuscripts were produced using inexpensive materials, such as palm leaves and birch, with fine calligraphy.

In the 19th century, the modern era of calligraphy began with the aesthetics and philosophy of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. Edward Johnston was the founder of modern Western calligraphy. He started using a wide-brimmed pen.

In the contemporary world, calligraphy is used in a wide range. Modern calligraphy ranges from useful inscriptions and designs to pieces of art where letters may or may not be readable. Nowadays a calligrapher practices both typography and hand lettering.

Calligraphy continues to flourish in the form of wedding invitations and event invitations, font and typography design, original handmade logo design, religious art, announcements, graphic design and commissioned calligraphic art, carved stone inscriptions and commemorative documents. It is also used for props and moving images for film and television, as well as for testimonials, birth and death certificates, maps and other written work.

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