Friday, April 1, 2011

Wang Sengqian: Ode to Meaningful Brushwork 王僧虔•笔意赞

Wang Sengqian (426—485) was the fourth generation descendent of the sage of calligraphy Wang Xizhi's family, and one of the best calligraphers of his time. He was also famous for his writing on theory of calligraphy. His famous article ‘Ode to Meaningful Brushwork’ with only 135 words is the first example of analyzing Chinese calligraphy in terms of structural form and spiritual expression. It has a short preface of 63 words and the actual text itself contains only 72 words.
Below is the complete text of ‘Ode to Meaningful Brushwork’.

In the subtle calligraphic way, spiritual expression is valued higher than structural form. However, only when both these two qualities are found in a calligraphic work, it can then be said to have followed the finest works of our forefathers. If this is the case, does it mean that it is actually quite easy to follow such a standard? In doing so, the mind must forget that there is a brush and the hand must forget that there is a writing text. Only with harmony between mind and hand, the profundity of calligraphy can be reached. The qualities cannot be achieved through the concerted efforts, but they are obviously there when the work is investigated. With this in mind, I have written the ‘Ode to Meaningful Brushwork’.
Choose paper made in Shaoxing, ink made in Yishui, and brush of a cone-shaped tip and a straight handle. The ink that is thick with fresh colour and the brush with hairs that can be applied evenly to the paper are all the necessities of virtuous practice. Start with practising Oath, then move on to practice on Huangting Sutra* - the model calligraphic works of extraordinary skill and romantic charm. Write vertical strokes in the shape of long lance, and write horizontal strokes in the shape of cross nail. In the meantime give them the spirit of graceful iris and hovering bird. Write thick strokes without undue stress, and write thin strokes without undue lightness. The slightest curvature of a stroke indicates its inclination, and a hair-breadth deviation leads to faulty expression. Only after you have practiced sufficiently then you are able to achieve high standard and enjoy good reputation and status.
* Oath and Huangting Sutra are two calligraphic works by Wang Xizhi.


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