Sunday, January 10, 2010

Appreciating Words As Images

The New Year is a time of rebirth for many people.  I, on the other hand, find that I am in a constant state of renewal and rebirth.  I am always looking for my creative path.  My life could be a list of all my passions and you would find that while I move freely from one to another, several are recurring.  I never seem to stick with one long enough to become very expert at it.  I am both a perfectionist and an impatient person.  Those two traits are often at odds with each other and my art often shows the battle.

One of my repeating passions is calligraphy, which I think is often under appreciated.  It is easy for people to understand the incredible effort that went into building the pyramids with the lack of technology at the time, but how many stop to think about the singular awesome effort that went into creating an illuminated manuscript during the same time period.  Can you even begin to imagine writing out the text of a book with a quill and dipped ink?  Not only did a scribe have to write the letters, but keep the lines straight, the spacing even and the shape of the letters consistent.  Then, they had the additional skill of creating elaborate designs and pictures on many of the capitals. 

To do good calligraphy requires a lot of practice. My own endeavors have not resulted in a skilled calligrapher, but they have taught me the joy of truly beautiful lettering.   Many people like seeing handwritten invitations and other simple works of the calligraphic art, but how many of you have really looked at calligraphy as an art form?  It is fascinating.  The letters are more than precise and beautiful.  They are often done in layers, combined with other media and graphics.  Sometimes, you can’t even read the text, but that doesn’t matter because the sense of the subject comes through in the design. 

If that sounds crazy to you, then I suggest you check out some of the artwork of my friend Anne Binder.   Anne is not only an expert at using the ageless tools of scribes, she has a loving appreciation of the papers the words are hand printed on.  She patiently taught me the italic and uncial hands, but she also introduced me to the world of painting a story using words as a visual medium.  Her  poet series  is an excellent example of calligraphy as art, so much more than just fancy writing. 

 So in this day and age of computers, text messages, and e-books, I would challenge you to take the time to actually write something slowly, carefully, one letter at a time.  You may be surprised at how calming and refreshing the action.  You may begin to understand the scope of the diligence and creativity involved in a beautiful art form centuries old.


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