Discipline before Art

One student in my Chinese calligraphy class asked me what new things will I teach them next term.  I said ‘nothing’ at the time; being sick and grumpy.  I am still sick and grumpy but this morning I turned my mind to a fuller answer to that question.

I believe what I said was true.  There is nothing I can teach them – if I cannot teach them to see.

Another student remarked, albeit with a smile, that I am a hard task master.  In truth, I do sound like a sergeant major  drilling the troops, for calligraphy is more about discipline than the spectacle of wild thrashing-about that Westerners in particular enjoy.  At least it’s true for beginners, unless they are some sort of idiot savant.

I used to fall out of step at lot when we had to march around the sport fields at school.  Don’t ask me why we did; to settle the rabble maybe.  I’d be stepping out with my right foot when everyone else was stepping left.  I would then skip a step and get back in line again.  Easy, except one must first be aware that one is out of step.  It’s the same with calligraphy.  That’s why I drill.

It may take a life time to master the art of Chinese calligraphy, but it is not impossible.  However, every great monument depends on its foundation.  Boring, but true.

There is a tendency amongst some of my students to reach for instant gratification.  They want to try their hands on as many characters as possible without first perfecting one.  Those who open their eyes to the beauty of a single, perfectly executed stroke move on to writing perfectly balanced characters and compositions.  Those who write hundreds of characters without first examining the merit of each will move on to writing thousands more with unsatisfactory results.

Students be warned:  more drills next term.


The character 一 (one) by a student  who works tirelessly on this stroke.


About Mary Tang

An urban orchardist everyday, a volunteer regularly, a poet sometimes and a blogger since March 2015. I travel when I can. Food is a constant.
This entry was posted in Chinese Calligraphy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Discipline before Art

  1. angela1313 says:

    Hope you are getting better. Understand being grumpy. Blocked eustachian tube and earache hid the fact I had a bad tooth until I swelled up. Dr Kim said I told you so but now have new crown, ear cleared and feel much better. I think mastery of calligraphy is like mastery of martial arts or basketball or anything. It requires repeated practice of the basics until they become natural and automatic. In the modern world I see more and more it is not just Americans who want instant success.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. taphian says:

    great stroke, Mary and a very Prussian way to see it, regards Mitza

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An excellent philosophy, Mary. Get well, please

    Liked by 1 person

  4. arlingwoman says:

    i hope you feel better soon, Mary. I too have been sick all of June!!! With a truly evil virus. Now on the mend.

    Liked by 1 person

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