The Ancient Chinese Calligraphy Tradition and Contemporary Art

Vol. 40 No. 3   09/2010    


The Ancient Chinese Calligraphy Tradition and Contemporary Art


Shih, Shou-chien









Key words

Chinese contemporary art, Cang Jie, Fung Ming-Chip, Gu Wenda, Tong Yang-tze, Xu Bing   


    Avant-garde artists often have the reputation of not merely distancing themselves from, but also rebelling against, aesthetic tradition. Although perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that these contemporary works are completely distinct from traditional ones, critics oftentimes overlook the deeprooted connections that lie between the two. In the work of five Chinese avant-garde artists, Xu Bing, Gu Wenda, Chiu Zhichieh, Tong Yang-tze and Fung Ming-Chip, the relationship that is shared with the past is not one that is readily apparent in the physical works themselves, but rather embedded in the cultural concepts found in artistic creation.

    The practice of Chinese calligraphy is integrated into the core of Chinese history and culture. The feeling of antiquity, and its subsequent associations with legends and folklore, can all be easily summoned when considering calligraphy's own rich cultural traditions. The recent work of avant-garde artists in this already abundant repertoire is not so much a departure from previous works but more of a reminder of the origins of this art and culture. For example, rather than viewing the works of Xu Bing as manipulations of characters, one can see them as new creations reassembling the elements of writing. Calling to mind the nascent foundations of calligraphy, when characters were first conceived of and systems of writing were initially developed, these avant-garde works are essentially experimenting with the very notion of creation. In other words, the concept of the creation of writing through the recreation of tradition draws intimate bonds between the old and the new.



Author: Shih, Shou-chien
Genre: Article