The Art of Words
How is your handwriting nowadays? Have you perfected your cursive, italic script with effortless artistry? Or is your handwriting likened to that of a four-year old, barely using a biro to jot down a shopping list once a week (why on earth use a pen when you can simply tap it into your phone)?! In our world of modern technology, with digital records and computerised typesetting, the concept of manually beautifying the written word seems like an anachronism. And yet calligraphy is explored extensively in the art world, with a huge online following and can also be seen frequently in our everyday lives.
The use of calligraphy originally dates back to ancient China during the Shang dynasty and became more common during the Han dynasty where it was expected for all educated men and even some women to be accomplished in calligraphy. Some of the oldest calligraphy scripts are found on Chinese ‘jiǎgǔwén’, which are essentially scriptures that were carved into animal shell bones such as tortoise shells and ox scapulae. In 220 BC, the Chinese emperor appointed a ‘character unification’ calligraphy system, in which over 3300 standardised characters were established.
We then move into Western calligraphy, which rooted itself in the Latin and Greek writing system, emerging in 3000 BC. The Romans, typically writing with reed or quill pens on long rolls of papyrus, first developed scripts that could be easily and practically used. After the initial formation, the Romans started to get creative with their alphabet and script, adding a more cursive style to the original lettering system. However, their script was still more simple and geometrical, than what came later down the line with the arrival of Christian monks who tried to decorate the Bible inside and out with lavish and exuberant symbols and designs.
Whilst its origins are still at the heart of modern calligraphy, it has developed out of the traditional roots and has become much more stylised and non-conforming. Traditional calligraphy characteristics that have been around for years can be identified by very particular strokes and formations, but many modern calligraphists have developed their own styles and lettering, in doing so creating a free-art-form that has no real definition.
And now, calligraphy continues to flourish, enveloping our world in the forms of wedding and event invitations, font design, typography, unique-lettered logo design, graphic design, graffiti, advertisement and fine-art. Our, often under-appreciated, written word will always be commemorated in beautifully embellished script; and although not everyone is able to accomplish the skilled penmanship, we can definitely all appreciate and admire it.