It was in Xi’an that I finally realized that calligraphy is an art of motion.
I’d been struggling with calligraphy, trying to recognize it as an art form. Last year HOB and I intensely scrutinized the world’s most famous collection of calligraphy in the National Palace Museum of Taipei. I certainly made progress, recognizing the formal qualities of balance and proportion that make up great works of art.
In China calligraphy is considered the greatest art form, the most perfect of The Three Perfections: painting, poetry and calligraphy. Until we visited the calligraphy district of Xi’an, I was thinking of calligraphy as a static visual art.
In the Shuyuan Xiang area of Xi’an, vendors sell calligraphy supplies and rubbings of carved stelae. We were there to find a calligrapher—our two youngest nieces have both American and Chinese names and we wanted to hire an artist to write their Chinese names as a present for my sister-in-law.
We wandered around unsure of how to find this service, until we found an artist in an outdoor booth who was clearly writing for hire. We gave him our nieces’ names and negotiated a price.
The artist weighed down a strip of paper with two long stones, dipped his brush in ink and began writing without hesitation. Ah, so elegant! So confident!
The artist completed two paintings in just a few minutes.
Our nieces’ names are at the center in large script, with the name of the artist, the date and the location (Xi’an) in smaller script along the side. The artist finished the work with two red stamps: one of his calligraphy school and another his signature.
From now on, whenever I see calligraphy, I will think of it as gesture, as fluid movement, as dancing with ink.
After our visit with the calligrapher, HOB and I experienced another wonder of Xi’an: Biang Biang noodles. Biang Biang noodles are fun to eat—-wide noodles swimming in a spicy sauce with greens. And it’s even more fun to say Biang Biang noodles. (I wonder if Zsa Zsa Gabor or Yo Yo Ma ever ate them?) But you know what must be no fun? Writing Biang Biang noodles. Seriously people: take a look at all the strokes in that character! And the calligrapher has to write it twice!
Once you think about it, the character for Biang Biang looks a lot like the noodles, don’t you agree?