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.