Basharat Bashir

The Art of  Calligraphy

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Among many art forms, art of Calligraphy is one of the most beautiful form of visual arts which has retained its importance despite shifting circumstances in the world of art.  One of the oldest art form known to human beings, Calligraphy is created with pen, ink brushes and other writing instruments. The word “calligraphy” is derived from the Greek words for “beauty” (kallos) and “to write” (graphein).Actually Calligraphy is much more than just beautifully written letters. Through calligraphy, one can learn about proportion, positive and negative space, depth perception, 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 skill to write them in an expressive, harmonious and skillful manner so that a knowledgeable eye will recognize such arrangement as a work of art.

Ever since humans started to write, they wrote with whatever tools they had such as sharp objects, bones, and stones and for colour they used vegetables, suitable to make ink and powders. Modern day calligrapher enjoys the convenience of abundant variety of writing tools, along with plentiful possibilities. To create an artwork calligrapher uses different types of pens and tools according to his/her requirement. Calligraphy pens come in different range and style with nibs that may be flat, round, or pointed and there are also multi-nibbed pens and steel brushes which artists use in their work of art. 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 art but also used it as the ultimate expression of God’s words. Ancient and holy books of many religions have been handwritten in illuminated calligraphic script. In present times, calligraphy continues to flourish in the form of wedding and event invitations, typography, original hand-lettered logo design, commissioned calligraphic art, maps, and other works involving writing.

The origin of Calligraphy with brushes dates back to ancient China during the Shang dynasty becoming more common during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) where it was expected for all educated men and some women to be proficient at it.In Shang dynasty, they used to write slogans and poems engraved in animal bones or turtle shells for decorative purpose. Due to lack of writing space, the characters had to be slightly slanted to be able to fit in the given space, which might be the origin of cursive script. After this, during 7th century Buddhist monks started using it more often in copying manuscripts.

But at the same time, this art form had already started spreading all over the world: the Romans had gotten hold of it, and started to write beautiful inscription in slabs of marble, either in statues, signs or just to create poems in slabs of marble. The highly geometrical, straight, formal lettering that they used is really a representative of ancient art today.

Arabic calligraphy is most beautiful and most celebrated form of art and Qur’an, the holy book of Islam is the finest example of literature as well as the calligraphy. In 7th Century, when calligraphy reached to Islamic world it was received with open arms. Muslims found calligraphy as an suitable form of art that they can utilize to spread the message of their religion. Muslims started writing Qur’an in an increasingly elegant and decorative way, and excerpts of the book with a beautiful, elaborate calligraphy started to be used in other art forms: clothing, paper, tiles, stone, jewellery etc. This love of calligraphy ended up creating two major styles: Kufic, the oldest and most flashy style, and Naskh, the smaller, more ornate style. Islamic calligraphy never lost its shine over time, it only evolved and developed and became more popular. Nowadays “calligraffiti”, a mix of calligraphy and graffiti is a highly regarded art form in a lot of Islamic countries.Calligraffiti is an art form that can be classified as either abstract expressionism or abstract vandalism. It is defined as a visual art that integrates letters into compositions that attempt to communicate a broader message through writing that has been aesthetically altered to move beyond the literal meaning. Simply put, it is the conscious effort of making a word or group of words into a visual composition. As such it is meant to be both an aesthetic experience and provocative art, it mixes tradition and precision with modern unbridled self-expression. Traditional calligraphy in the Islamic world is bound by very strict rules, not the least a prohibition on using representations of the human form in manuscripts, calligraffiti artists break free from such rules and allow themselves to reshape and deconstruct letters as well as to combine them with other symbols and figures in creative ways.Calligraffiti artists are not confined to the use of actual letters. Instead, they go beyond a simple transformation of Arabic or English-language words into visual compositions, and invent new languages.

In West, after the Romans, reading and writing got banned from the masses and became a sign of nobility. So the calligraphy also got limited to the royalty only. Kings and other royals used to order monks to copy books in elegant and intricate way to show off their power and luxury. Later the masses got hold of books again in 1400s when Guttenberg invented the first printer with moveable typefaces. He used letters with small adornments instead of using straightforward lettering, demonstrating that humans value beauty above anything else.

Indian calligraphy was most used in writing religious scriptures. Monastic Buddhist 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 material, like palm leave and birch, with fine calligraphy.

In 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 the use of broad-edged pen.

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

Calligraphy continues to flourish in the forms of wedding invitations and event invitations, font design and typography, original hand-lettered logo design, religious art, announcements, graphic design and commissioned calligraphic art, cut stone inscriptions, and memorial documents. It is also used for props and moving images for film and television, and also for testimonials, birth and death certificates, maps, and other written works.

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