Resonance of the Brush

In our everyday lives we read printed type and enter text on our computers and cell phones—mechanical characters that are the same no matter who reads or writes them. Yet,write those same characters with a brush and suddenly they turn into organic living things. What makes this living quality of calligraphy?

 Due to the resilience of the hairs of the brush, when a person holds the handle, the subtle vibration of his being is transmitted directly through the brush. Using the strength and vitality produced by the flexibility of the hairs, one begins to move the brush. 

Breathing from the moment one picks up the brush, and following the breath, a rhythm of space is established. This rhythm is what produces the variations of tempo and accent of the flowing line that is expressed in a natural continuous lively movement.

In this sense it is natural to speak of calligraphy as music, for both are art forms of time.

 One summer five years ago, an American high school student who was interested in calligraphy stayed in my home. One day, as she was watching my brushwork she remarked, “I hear the sound of the ‘cello from your brushwork.”

 I was surprised. Although it had occurred to me that calligraphy was like music, I had not said anything about those thoughts to her. Also, this was the first time for me to consider the comparison to a specific instrument. In any case, her remark validated my feeling that calligraphy is music. Specifically, that a line drawn by the brush produces a certain resonance. The moment by moment expression of the drawn line is like the intersection of the many resonances in a symphony. 

The living quality of calligraphy is precisely this.

The resonance follows the time dimension, appearing and disappearing, changing—not simply repeating itself, but mastering the surface of the paper and the surrounding space. According to the resonance of the black inked path of the brush, the surrounding white space may be squeezed or enlarged, deeply interior or placidly peaceful. And from where does it arise, this resonance that shapes time and space?

Let us say that it originates in the heart and spirit of the person who holds the brush. Thus it is that in the world of calligraphy, human dignity and elevated spirituality are treasured. For that reason, the writings of many Zen priests are valued and respected.

 Obviously, heart alone is not enough to create a calligraphic work. Practice and learning technique are necessary as well. Then, with a full heart, and a hand that is expert enough to follow it naturally, one is ready to express a melding of heart and hand in their brushwork.

A truly magnificent work of calligraphy has a balance between the quality of humanity and the level of skill of the artist. The visual resonance woven by this interplay shines through like a sublime echo, enfolding the viewer.


April 2013



Yoko Nishina