As I listened to the interview I was reminded of last week's lecture/class with Chinese calligraphist Harrison Xinshi Tu at UAA presented by the Confucius Institute. He too talked about the importance, in China, of four items:
You can see them all in the video below. As he draws an artistic character and signs it and applies the chop.
He pointed out they'd been used for 6000 years and still today calligraphy is done with the same materials as then.
After going through the four elements needed, he then showed us the evolution of Chinese characters by drawing half a dozen or so and showing them changing over the
The first three you should be able to figure out. Basic parts of nature. So is the fourth. Stop and think about it a bit. Actually, you shouldn't think, just relax and let it come to you.
OK, did you get the sun? And if you didn't get the moon, it's probably hopeless. Then mountains. Then river. Then man. That's hard, but he's looking to the left with an arm hanging down The last one is tree. As Mr. Tu explained, the bottom half is the roots and the top half, the branches. This row was what characters looked like 5,000-6,000 years ago. About when the world started according to some of our science challenged fellow citizens. Next is the chart after he completed it. You can see how the characters got modified. The second-to-the-last row are modern, simplified characters - the kind they use in China today. Below that are the artistic versions of the characters.
After he made the chart, he took it down and showed us how to make the six main strokes in Chinese characters. Then we got a paper with the strokes and how to make them and some paper, a brush, and ink.
And then we made the basic strokes.
So, between the two events - the NPR interview with Philip Hensher and the Calligraphy demonstration, I've been thinking about how the keyboard has taken me away from the pen. There is something more satisfying about holding a pen and not just writing, but consciously creating the letters, beautifully, on the page. The pen as an extension of my finger, flowing out words. Words that spill my thoughts onto the paper.
But some of that happens at the keyboard, but my physical connection to the shape and size and heaviness or lightness of the line is gone. The clues about who I am that Kensher says the handwriting leaves, that personal touch, is missing. Every letter is so ruthlessly perfect.
Of course, like with most things, the answer, if there is an answer, is to find some balance, and nowadays, for many of us, we are far too heavily tilted to the keyboard. Maybe I should hand write out some posts, take pictures, and post them. But images are not readable online to those who can't see well and have to use software that converts the writing to voice.
There's a part of me that never takes anything for granted. Perhaps it's the legacy of my parents' world in Germany collapsing and having to flee to the US. Everything but what they were able to take with them was gone. In any case, there's always this part of me that assumes all I have could disappear. If a Sandy happened to me, it wouldn't be totally unexpected. And so part of me has never totally trusted all the miracles of the electronic age. When the electricity goes off, it's the tools of our ancestors that will get us through. I have no confidence that my grandchildren will ever see this blog unless I make hard copies of it. And then the video and links will be gone, but something will be left.
And there are others that are concerned about the lost skill of writing. The SAT's have added a handwritten essay. From a 2005 Seattle Times article,
An estimated 300,000 high-school students across the nation took the new SAT yesterday for the first time. The College Board revised the exam after being faced with the threat of major institutions dropping it as a requirement. The most sweeping change is a new writing section — 35 minutes of multiple-choice questions and the 25-minute essay.
The reverberations were felt yesterday on the third floor of the W Hotel in downtown Seattle, as well. More than 50 Puget Sound-area grade-school teachers were learning how to teach their students handwriting, a skill that some may have thought the computer keyboard rendered obsolete. Some elementary schools no longer teach cursive.
"They stopped training teachers how to teach handwriting in most colleges and universities about 25 years ago," said Jan Olsen, an occupational therapist who developed a handwriting curriculum a decade ago. "But instead of putting something reasonable in place, they just dropped it," she said.
A 2010 NY Times article says, though that only 15% of students choose the handwritten essay. One professor is quoted:
Richard S. Christen, a professor of education at the University of Portland in Oregon, said, practically, cursive can easily be replaced with printed handwriting or word processing. But he worries that students will lose an artistic skill.
And when you look at the calligraphy video, you'll see Mr. Tu quickly drawing an artistic character.
“These kids are losing time where they create beauty every day,” Professor Christen said. “But it’s hard for me to make a practical argument for it. I’m not one who’s mourning it because of that; I’m mourning the beauty, the aesthetics.”
All the electronic devices are fine, IF we don't lose our connection to nature and the natural tools that humans have always used and the skills to use them. Have you hand written a letter lately?