Sunday, August 21, 2011

Revisionist history; a confession

      I came of age in the college generation that coined the phrase “tell it like it is.”  I’ve grown up into a person who would rather tell it like I wish.  So now I’m ready to come clean; I’ve indulged in a bit of revisionism when it comes to showing how people write.  Here are a few things I fudged in the illustrations of Learn World Calligraphy.  I'm sure that any well-informed calligrapher can pinpoint a half-dozen more. 
      I adapted this chapter title page from a children’s book of Russian fairy tales in the graphic style of Ivan Bilibin, redrawing the figures in the poses of calligraphers.  The picture itself is a fairy tale; those peasant girls, like the row of kulaks across the top, would all have been illiterate.  Maybe we could pretend they are practicing the X mark they will need to sign their names.  

      Continuing in the spirit of sanitized history, this Japanese scribe, pausing to think about what to write next, is redrawn from a happy little guy who is actually smoking a pipe full of who knows what.  I took the liberty of touching it up to look like a calligraphy brush.  

That’s Mao Tse Tung for real, however, pausing mid-sentence in a Chinese poster.  He was widely praised as a calligrapher (although you have to wonder whether anyone in China in the 1950’s and 1960’s would have been willing to pipe up and give him a bad review).  Ever the revisionist himself, the simplified characters he advocated made it easier to reach more people with propaganda.

    I’ll have to revise at least one illustration next time my new book is printed: a misspelled syllable in the word for “light” on one side of a Korean lamp shade.  Calligraphers call that a “write-o,” similar to a typo.  Here is the lamp in both versions, with my apologies.  Thanks to Seung He for careful proofreading.   

     While we’re revising, here is a missing part of the illustration that ends the Introduction on page 10. Calligraphers pray for protection from Titivullus, the demon who sprinkles their work with mistakes. 

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