Western Calligraphy | Michel H. Verhasselt Vernissage at 18.00, March 24th 2017 University of Luxembourg, Belval Campus, MSA, First Floor.
Calligraphy – classical and beyond Calligraphy’s definition today might be hard to find precisely. It is a word of Greek origin, whose etymological meaning is “beautiful writing”. However, words and their etymologies need not coincide absolutely, and it is faulty logic to look at a word’s origins to determine its present meaning. Indeed, beauty is a limiting criterion: can writing not be stark, shocking, or otherwise expressive without being necessarily beautiful?
If we look at western calligraphy’s tradition, which spreads over more than two millennia, we can see why one might want to define the art as beautiful writing: quality manuscripts were orderly in composition, and consistent in letterform. The whole purpose of a manuscript was to be read, and the scribes of old naturally couldn’t forbear legibility.
The widespread use of printing, typography, and the Internet challenge the necessity for clear writing. We have much better ways of disseminating textual information than to ask someone to sit a desk for months, copying a book. We seldom, if ever, use a pen and paper to send a letter: the e-mail is simply more convenient. In short, the original purposes of handwriting have been superseded with new, faster methods. Is that to say calligraphy is a relic of the past? Certainly not.
One purpose remains, and it is the greatest: art. We can now understand how a “beautiful writing” definition is outdated: art’s purpose is not just beauty. We can find a much more accurate definition from Mediavilla, one of the best calligraphers of our age: “Calligraphy is the art of forming signs in an expressive, harmonious, and learned way”. Untrammelled by functionality, calligraphy has found vast new vistas to explore. Since the 1970s or so, the field has never been more fertile: the work of Brody Neuenschwander and Yves Leterme, inspired in part by the seminal theories of Hans-Joachim Burgert, shows a creative power and an originality which defies any of their predecessors. Calligraphy is not only alive today, it has never been better.