Writing Forces: Revisiting the Aesthetic Concept of Shi 勢 in Chinese Calligraphy Criticism


Ideas regarding forces in things – and artists’ sensations and presentations of such forces – have been discussed by Western theorists Theodor Lipps, Rudolf Arnheim and Gilles Deleuze. For example, Deleuze, in “Painting Forces,” pronounced that art is about rendering invisible forces visible. This paper concerns Chinese calligraphy, an East Asian art that since its beginning has aimed at executing forces. But, what are the forces? Where are they? How does a Chinese calligrapher capture them and render them visible? Revisiting the aesthetic term of 勢 can yield some clues. As it originally appeared in texts on military strategies and politics, meant disposition or circumstances, power or potential. In Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) it was employed in calligraphy treatises and since then widely used in artistic criticism. François Jullien defines the calligraphic as the force running through the form of written characters, which denotes only a phase of the calligraphic . This paper proposes that (or force) flows through four conterminous phases in calligraphy practice: in nature, in hand (writing), in calligraphic forms, and in the eyes of the beholder. In nature, is the propensity or movements within all animate and inanimate beings, and it is this propensity calligraphers will simulate through homologous bodily movements, movements that generate calligraphic “living forms” (as used by Susan Langer). Informed by Western art theory, this paper argues for a new understanding of and its use in 20th century and contemporary criticism.

Author Information
Xiongbo Shi, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Paper Information
Conference: ACAH2015
Stream: Arts - Arts Theory and Criticism

This paper is part of the ACAH2015 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon