Calligraphy, the art
of beautiful writing, had long been highly esteemed,
intensively studied, and avidly collected. The writing
of Chinese ideograms (kanji) in a wide variety
of styles was inherited from the Chinese scholarly
tradition, which at one extreme became the nearly
indecipherable grass-style writing and at the other
geometric abstractions. There are famous exponents of
all these styles in contemporary Japan who have spent a
lifetime perfecting their skills. The most widely used
mode is called kana, referring to the Japanese
syllabary, which provides an opportunity to depict both
ideograms and Japanese phonetic sounds in set phrases.
This kind of writing may be done in many ways: with
fine, delicate strokes or bold, splashy ones, carefully
controlled or in uninhibited freedom, and on a scale
ranging from large to minuscule. Traditional Japanese
poetry is usually classified in the kana group,
while modern poetry is placed in a group by itself. Zen
Buddhism promoted a spontaneous style of writing in its koan,
which includes some pictorial additions.
lends itself so well to modern abstract painting, some
artists have used it in this form; the Bokusho abstract
school has developed some outstanding masters.
Calligraphers are greatly revered not only for their
skill and scholarship but also for their attainment of a
high spiritual level, which produces the meditative calm
considered necessary for truly creative brushwork.
Calligraphy is widely collected at enormous prices, and
writing by well-known persons in various fields, such as
politics or the military, is also treasured even by
those who cannot read the script, which is not uncommon
because some is nearly abstract.
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