Calligraphy has a rich history as one of the first forms of the written word. Its importance spans across cultures, as it was relied upon for centuries to impart the information contained within letters, documents, books and more before the advent of the printing press. Though technically considered a craft, the skills required to demonstrate proficiency with the writing system lend it an air of artistic sophistication. In fact, the Chinese considered calligraphy to be the highest form of art, surpassing even painting as the quintessential medium of personal expression. This attitude may have been influenced by the ancient Chinese writing system invented in 1500 B.C., which demanded different symbolization for each word in the language, making the penning of ideas and thoughts a painstaking effort.
Japanese calligraphy was developed from the Chinese tradition of ornamental writing in the 5th century and had developed its own specific attributes, like a cursive script, by the 8th century. Calligraphy has been considered by some cultures as a way to visually express the meaning found within the text. Arabic calligraphy is revered among the Islamic arts due to its ability to preserve the Qur'an.
Old English Calligraphy
Old English calligraphy had its heyday in Europe between the 12th and 16th centuries. Its popularity grew, in part, because of its ability to fit more lettering in already scarce spaces in a time when writing utensils and paper were expensive. It was so favored amongst writers and readers in the West, that when the first printing presses were used, it was incorporated into their templates.
Characterized by tall lettering and ornate styling, this calligraphy type is one of the more complex letterforms. Though it inspires some contention amongst purists, Old English Calligraphy is often described as "black letter" or "gothic." This is the type of calligraphy that is commonly used on invitations and certificates in the modern world.
Custom and Modern Calligraphy
Custom calligraphy can take liberties with its traditional forms. Whereas ancient calligraphy may have been considered an art while still conveying literal messages or meanings behind words, the modern form can be more abstract. Today, calligraphy may serve simply as a creative rendering of ideas and concepts, instead of primarily acting as a medium to impart the written word. It's not uncommon for museums to boast exhibits of artists' inventive uses of calligraphy.
Like in centuries past, contemporary calligraphy can be seen on important correspondence today. It is typically incorporated into invitations for special events, such as weddings, anniversaries or formal parties. The advent of computers and other precision-based machines make the creation and sharing of calligraphic text quick and easy. The installation of calligraphic fonts on these systems can make for an instant rendering of calligraphic text, though the uniformity of digital lettering can come at the price of the personal flourishes that have long been cherished as individual artistic expression.
Written By Sophie Pierce.