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Digital Calligraphy 1

September 2, 2009 Leave a comment

This is a project I stumbled upon by a very good calligrapher who works in multi-media.

It begins: “Technology has waged war on the poor scribe since the Renaissance–when a new black art, printing, stole functionality from calligraphy. In the past century, photocomposition was a nail in the coffin for diehard scribes.”

One might ask, “what are the differences between digital and traditional calligraphy?” Interestingly, Denis Brown asks that we look for similarities rather than differences in the practice of digital arts and calligraphy, provocatively tracing the original meaning of the word “digital” to meaning simply, “fingers,” playfully suggesting that calligraphy is intrinsically “digital.” Digital could mean made by numbers or by fingers; in the background of this suggestion is a fingerprint. Roman numerals were pictographic signs representing numbers of fingers.

Another good question: does a barcode count as “digital calligraphy”? Does a Chinese seal function like a barcode, as a marker of identity?

Although both are marks of identity, I don’t think they’re completely equatable, especially given that barcodes are primarily used on items for sale, whereas Chinese seals were themselves part of the artwork and themselves have a long history of craftsmanship. Now, Chinese calligraphy is a completely different area altogether. You can study for a PhD in Calligraphy (my previous teacher was doing this during weekdays in Guangzhou). That’s how seriously many Chinese people take this art form. So to move it to digital contexts would completely disturb much of the philosophy behind it; the ink is often compared to blood flowing; if calligraphy is part meditation, then the tools/mediums used/environment practiced in really do matter.

This is not to say that no digital calligraphy should be practiced; it’s just that digital Chinese calligraphy may not completely conform to older philosophies, and their emphasis on *only making a mark once* instead of erasing and repairing mistakes. Digital calligraphy does not contain the possibility of demonstrating artistry in only one sweep, because it’s impossible to tell how many times a mark has been amended or changed. Anyway, there has been a great deal of work done on digital Chinese calligraphy and painting, confronting the challenges of translating this hand-craft to digital practice. Okay, that’s the extent of my musings for now.

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