Sunday, May 23, 2010

calligraffia blog review - Alice Young - 'Contemporary Calligraphy'

At LAST I can bring you the FIRST of our posts on calligraphy blogs....

.... and I've saved the best for first - or rather, I wanted to start our series of calligraphy blog reviews with the blog that essentially inspired THIS blog - Contemporary Calligraphy - the blog of Canadian blogging calligrapher (or calligraphic blogger) Alice Young

Alice graciously (and generously!) accepted our invitation to share some of her thoughts about blogging; how it fits (or doesn't) with calligraphic practice, its benefits and pitfalls and a few thoughts about the future of calligraphy..... I hope you enjoy the discussion - for perhaps the best thing a blog can offer is just that - if offers everyone an opportunity to participate in that discussion.......

Ronnie: When and how did you commence your blog - Contemporary Calligraphy?

Alice: I started blogging because I was excited about the future of calligraphy. While others around me moaned of calligraphy being a lost art, I saw something different - incredible unexplored potential - and wanted to share my enthusiasm.

Online, I was discovering pockets of interest in calligraphy. Good calligraphers, poor calligraphers and kids posting their work. Of course, since we all start as “poor” calligraphers, seeing it all was delightful.

So, it was a bit of a personal reaction against the idea that calligraphy is old, out-dated and irrelevant. While this is the mainstream understanding, I saw - and continue to see - western calligraphy as an ‘infant’ in the art world. So much potential! So much has yet to be done, written, created! Eastern cultures have thousands of years of calligraphic tradition - and while you could argue that western calligraphy dates back to the first writing - western calligraphy as art and expression are so very young!

When I began the blog, I was also making calligraphic works for my first gallery exhibition, and grappling with an idea that many people expressed - that “calligraphy is craft, not art”. I would argue that it can be either, or both. Is every pencil drawing a piece of art? Not necessarily. But in the hands of a master, a pencil can create art. So too, can a calligraphy pen or brush.

Blogging was also a way to explore the technologies emerging at that time. Blogs were quite new, then, and facebook and twitter (and whatever is coming next !) still in our futures!

More practically, I began blogging in Winter 2006. My first blog post was done on a day when I was literally “snowed in” - unable to leave my house due to a huge snowfall. Perhaps when you can’t get out, you reach out?

 R: Has your blog's focus changed since its inception?

A: The content of my blog has shifted and morphed - blogs are by nature very flexible. Yet, the original mission as stated, “to introduce more viewers to contemporary calligraphy” remains the same.

Yet, like so many endeavors do, my blog back-fired! My hope was to expose viewers (especially non-calligraphers) to the wider world of contemporary calligraphy. But in fact, my eyes have been opened to the incredible richness and variety of contemporary artists working in calligraphy - throughout the world.

R: What have you found are the best and/or worst aspects of blogging?

A: The best aspects of blogging are that it is easy, instant and expandable. If you can upload photos to facebook, you can create a blog. It is that easy. Traditional websites can be cumbersome, difficult to update and keep current, while blogs are super easy to work with and can expand to include all kinds of information - text, photos, audio and video.

Many calligraphers and artists know they “should” have a website to put up their work or ideas, but find the thought and/or process daunting. A blog is definitely a simpler way to go, and my blog gets twice as many hits as my website.

The sheer wonder of blogging is in the connections made. Since starting the blog, I have connected with other calligraphers globally. It is truly awesome to discover the work of someone on the other side of the world - perhaps with languages and customs that you have never been exposed to, and yet see and sense the connections between your work, and often your lifestyle. (It takes a certain personality to dedicate yourself to an impossible task like being a good calligrapher!)  Like music, calligraphy can be a universal language.

But there are far fewer calligraphers than musicians, and we are spread thinly across the globe. The beauty of the internet is that we are now truly able to ‘meet’ each other and become a calligraphic community. And I think we’re all seeing that happening.

The worst aspects of blogging include my concerns about where this wondrous new technology is taking us. While it is allowing us to connect (good), I worry about the possibility that the online world will become one big popularity contest (very bad). With our increasing ability to rate online offerings by becoming a “fan” or voting up or down, we run the risk of hurting or marginalizing others, of “worshipping” certain cults (be it calligraphy, music, cultural trends) and losing ourselves in the process. 

We also, sometimes indavertently, brand ourselves. Having worked in advertising, I understand “branding,” (which corporations use to present their values to the world) and I’m well aware of the power of what is left out of those presentations. By developing an online presence, we are branding ourselves, and along with that comes the both the prerogative and pitfalls of any process which publicly defines “that which you are”.

What I did not expect was the “responsibility” which comes with blogging. It comes in the form of those sidebar links - how do you decide who is added to those links? In the beginning, this was easy for me - the top calligraphers I knew of were added to my links - a dozen or so. But as my knowledge of calligraphers around the world exploded (facebook played a big role in that; who knew calligraphers were so chatty?!), it becomes almost overwhelming to try to add everyone or to determine who should be added. I confess this is a real challenge, and one I have not completely come to terms with. I’m uncomfortable with the ‘power’ and implied judgement of editing those sidebar links!

And of course, like any endeavor, blogging takes time. I do not stick to a schedule (as perhaps I should), but rather, I add a blog post when something ‘strikes’ me. And when I get busy, the blog gets neglected.

However, I am a huge believer in flowing with life, and expect my blog to become more active at another period in my life. In the meantime, I can celebrate the work of others whose ink is flowing! And check out the latest posts on calligraffia!

R: What do you think is the most important contribution calligraphy can make in today’s world?

A: I think by practicing and exposing our contemporaries to calligraphy, we can perhaps nudge them to think about the written word and where it truly comes from.

We are at a place in history where small but powerful groups of people are taking the work of early scribes, writers and thinkers and distorting those words to justify violence or bigotry in today’s world. (In some cases they don’t need to distort; the call for violence and segregation is clearly there.)

So, if we can pique curiosity about the long and mystery-shrouded history of the written word, and why someone would take such care with replicating words, and how words have always been linked with power, we can stimulate thinking about historical texts and an honest examination of their beginnings.

Even witnessing the mesmerizing beauty of an illegible, abstract or mysterious script, we can begin to understand how early books - along with carrying practical knowledge - would have carried so much power and mystique, especially during times when literacy was limited to scholars, scribes and priests.
A study of calligraphic history, which then intertwines with the history of art and literature, cuts to the core questions of human existence.

If we can help people to recognize that mankind has always had the urge to write, edit and disseminate his views (and credit them to a higher power), then we will understand that what was written thousands of years ago is simply not reasonable justification for unethical actions today.

Many people already understand this. But, over the next several decades, human survival may depend on all people coming to this understanding. This is our area of expertise. Let’s talk about it.

Let's indeed..... 

please feel free to comment - or drop us a line.

and thanks again Alice for such a lively response and lovely blog!

** all artwork by Alice Young - reproduced with permission


  1. Ronnie, Thanks for this interesting post. Alice's work is absolutely beautiful. I have recently (the past month!!!) fallen in love with calligraphy, especially the very contemporary sort that merges text with abstract painting. Actually I've been thinking of dropping you a line to ask for some direction. Can you recommend any "essential" books or sites for a total beginner? Keep up the great work!

  2. Excellent Alice, and thank you Ronnie. I'm sure the fear of where is calligraphy going and indeed will there be a use for it in the future, never mind the thought of 'Where's the new blood' are questions we have all needed to ask.
    Is it a craft or is it Art....hmmmm.... perhaps it starts as a Craft but then like magicians we turn Letters into Art and perhaps we should all commit ourselves to entering more 'Art' exhibitions so the Art world can get used to it being so....Many points to ponder, thanks for a wonderful article.
    May you pen never run dry x

  3. What a wonderful idea! One can spend an awful lot of time combing the blogs and you are doing a great service to put together a "greatest hits", or perhaps better put, a bouquet of blogs. It does seem sometimes that calligraphy is underappreciated by so many whose eyes are trained to what they perceive as the perfection of typography...but then I hear about another wait list for a great lettering class and I am reassured! Thank you---I look forward to following your blog of blogs.

  4. Nice feature- congrats to Alice and also to Ronnie. A simple mission, clearly lived (by Alice) and surely inspiring to others; eloquently explained, with passion... the sum of all those parts mentioned is an elusive combo that here hits the nail on the head. Keep it up.

  5. Ooops - I made the last comment via a Google pseudonym that is an anagram of my real name- (Denis Brown)- no need to conceal my true ID here... sorry about that.

  6. thanks all for your supportive and kind comments

    (esp to *wendi* - you'll have to get another google pseudonym now that this one is blown!)

    - all praise to alice for the clarity of her thoughts and for her generosity in willingly putting it out there in the world

  7. Great food for thoughts! I always like Alice's work and her blog is going to become a Callipedia soon. Thanks for sharing and inviting her for a interview.