How To Evaluate Shodo Works? 3 Most Important Factors To Find Out Good Calligraphy

a calligrapher writing his art on large paper

artistic Japanese calligraphy work of character "look"

Shodo calligraphy is a Japanese art of expression by characters. The characters were invented for practical purpose at first, but they became to the way for calligraphers to express their artistry in addition. The discipline of this artistic writing technique to write beautiful calligraphic characters is called Shodo. Although Shodo is taught in schools and many people enjoy it, it is often said that artistry of Shodo is hard to understand. However, you may be interested in this beautiful calligraphy written in exotic characters.

In the previous post, the way how to feel and enjoy Shodo writings is explained. In this post, how to evaluate Shodo works and how to distinguish good works are explained.

What is a “Good” Calligraphy?

artistic Japanese calligraphy work of mixed characters

How to evaluate a Shodo calligraphy work is a difficult topic. There are various types:
beautiful but nasty work,
neat and tidy work that seems to be practiced for hundreds of times,
poor artistry but written with utmost effort,
excellent artistic work with noble mood…  

Evaluations and reviews by professionals may diverse for same calligraphy work because most of them are done by feelings rather than theory and rules. This kind of evaluations are rather superficial because they reflect professionals’ personal characters.

Here, I introduce three biggest factors to evaluate Shodo works logically. This is a method developed by a Shodo researcher Mr.Taki. After introducing the three factors of Shodo evaluation, I’ll then explain how to apply the three factors to actually evaluate a Shodo work. I hope this helps when you appreciate Japanese calligraphy works.

Three Most Important Factors

a calligrapher writing his art on large paper

Generally speaking, Japanese calligraphy works consist of three factors, therefore we should evaluate on each factor separately. The three factors are writer, written words and artistry of writing.

Who Wrote It

First of all, it matters who wrote a calligraphy work. It affects evaluation of Shodo works.
Imagine a work written by your beloved teacher or your grandchildren, then works by them must have some values for you, regardless of what’s written. Not that extreme, works have values in case they are written by historically famous and great people, then their works are valued because of their fame.

What the Written Words Mean

Second factor is what’s written on a work. Most people are interested in what the meaning of characters or words on a Shodo work. This may be a kind of instinctive act, but it may be quite natural considering Shodo has a rule to write writing letters. It may bring discomfort in case you cannot understand what is written on a Shodo work (what the meaning of the writing letters), and it may be hard for you to be inclined to enjoy and/or evaluate the Shodo work.

Artistry of Writing

Third factor is how artistic a calligraphy work is written. This may interest calligraphers and critics most. There are two points of view to evaluate artistry of calligraphy works.

First point of view is whether written characters are beautiful or not.
To evaluate this point, you have to have some standard in the first place. It may be a perfectly balanced dictionary font, it may be a greatest work in similar style one has seen, or it may be a most popular writing style at that era. Comparing a work with those standards, you can evaluate how much the calligraphy work is similar to your standard.

Another point of view is whether a calligraphy work is preferable for you or not.
This also require a ruler to evaluate. It may be an observer’s preferences, how much a work express personal character of its calligrapher, what is the message a work addresses to viewers, whether a work get to views’ heart, and so on. This point depends more on sympathy of observers, or just their preferences.

Artistry of writing can be evaluated by mixture of these two points of view. In other words, objective (first one) and subjective (second one) point of views.

In Conclusion

appreciation of shodo writings in illustration

Thus, we have seen three factors that affect evaluation of a calligraphy work: writer, written words and artistry of writing. Different from other categories of art, origin of Shodo works is practical writing characters. It evolved in another way to be focused on artistry of calligraphy writing. Shodo works reflects personal character and expressions of calligrapher just like other arts. When you look at a Japanese calligraphy work, how about pondering what a calligrapher tried to express?

blog author hiro

Author - Hiro

Lived in Kyoto in school days, I was impressed by profundity of history and tradition of the city. Had a job to join the three major festivals of Kyoto: Aoi, Jidai and Gion festivals. Love Kyoto and Japanese culture.
Manager of, selling items of Japanese culture, tradition and craftsmanship. I'll introduce interesting information about Japan!

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