Tuesday, September 26

Fu Shan

Over the weekend I visited the Met to see their new exhibit on Chinese calligraphy. It is a subject about which I wish I were less ignorant. Near the end of the exhibit (right before several pieces by Xu Bing), is a large and extremely eye-catching piece by the writer and intellectual Fu Shan (1607-1685). I’ve photographed a section of it for you to see. His most famous theoretical writing on calligraphy is an epilogue attached to a poem dedicated to his children. In it, he describes how his own technique was “ruined” by attempts to imitate the Yuan calligrapher Zhao Mengfu, instead of following the old masters of the Jin and Tang eras. He then continues:

But we must be aware that Zhao was actually devoted to [the sage of calligraphy] Wang Xizhi, but due to his studies being unorthodox, he eventually fell into sappy aestheticism. This is what I mean when I say that the heart and the hand cannot be deceived. Beware! Beware! This is where you must be cautious. A tiny misstep will eventually carry you a thousand miles off course. It is better to be clumsy than have artifice, better to be ugly than ingratiating, better to be incoherent than slick, better to be sincere than calculating—this is the only way to step back from the brink of disaster in your calligraphy.
Of course, try saying that to your 3rd grade cursive instructor and see where it gets you.


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