Chinese Calligraphy: Typography, Design & Illustration
Calligraphy has a long and respected tradition in China, swirling around history and myth: some legends attribute its invention to a man called Cang Jie, around 2,600 b.C.
Nowadays, Calligraphy has become a symbol of erudition, and has a strong influence on Chinese design. I’d dare to say that, with its strong repetition and reproduction practice drills, Calligraphy has modeled the Chinese world view. Let me explain why:
Recently I took part of the Scholarship Review Board of Raffles Design Institute, in which I had to analyze the work of 400 Chinese students that apply to the Visual Communication Program, coming from several art academies and high schools of Shanghai, as well as far out provinces of China. The work submitted by the students should portray their abilities regarding two specific skills: Rendering and Illustration.
For the rendering examination, several batches of students were asked to watch a slideshow of celebrities (tv stars, pop artists, politicians, etc), still life, and landscapes. The students were asked to — within a 5 minute timeframe — to reproduce in an answer sheet the images they saw in the slideshow. For the illustration examination, the students were asked — again within a 5 minute timeframe — to illustrate concepts, like “happiness”, “flexibility”, “honesty”.
During the analysis of the students’ rendering skills, I was astonished with the overall quality, precision, confidence, and speed. Some of the drawings had the potential to be mistakenly attributed to some professional illustrator.
In the other hand, during the analysis of their illustration skills, I was surprised by their difficulty of illustrating the concepts (including the students that had performed well in the rendering part): the large majority of the students approached the concept in a very superficial way. Even their style changed: candidates who had portray mature and confident strokes during the rendering exam started drawing like children, using stick figures.