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The Quest for Perfect Form


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'Sound-in-space, the point (manifest in space as the first touch) and (the movement of the point into forms as) art: these three perceptions reveal the universe.'


In calligraphy, the language of the letterform is seen to become equivalent to the written word itself, giving expression to a vision of divine reality, touching the deepest mysteries of existence, the quintessential point within the fullness of cosmic space. And, at the physical level, to originate from the first touch of the writing tool upon its expanse of writing surface: the point (bindu). It is a concept which seems to be acknowledged across calligraphic philosophies. S.H. Nasr's 'The Spiritual Message of Islamic Calligraphy' describes the letter which begins the first word of the chapters of the Holy Quran ("Bismillah....') as follows: 'The point under the ba ' symbolises the Primordial Point, the first drop of the Divine Pen upon the Guarded Tablet.'

From the primordial point (bindu) -- the very core and centre of activity -- flow the line (rekha) and the curve, in innumerable variations. Being drawn as pictures, they have been abbreviated to pictograms, found expression as ideograms, rebus, syllabic and phonetic writing, and as the alphabet.

The scripts of the world and their precursors, the early embryo-notation systems date as far back as about 20,000 B.C. They were scratched, drawn or painted on rock, pebbles, wood and bone. They straddled continents and millenia, sharing a high degree of artistic merit in the figures and geometric patterns often captured dynamically in just a few strokes -- even if a lack of narrative sequence or schematisation may have kept them from being considered actual writing.

The main writing systems of world -- the earliest being about 6,000 years old -- show a diversity in chronoogy, materials, design, form and system.

Pictographic, ideographic, syllabic, phonetic and alphabetic scripts are in evidence at different periods, in different places. Phoenician, acknowledged as the world's first alphabetic script, was the progenitor of three of the world's writing systems: Graeco-Roman, Perso-Arabic and Hebrew.

The early Hebrew script was a North-Semitic descendant, closely resembling phoenician. Later Hebrew developed from the Aramaic into a 'square' script, (its letters seemed to be within a square 'grid'), quite different in looks from its forebears.

Even in the earliest writing systems, latent calligraphic features appear. Care in rendering is evident in the earliest cuneiform scripts of Mesopotamia and neighbouring areas found on tablets of sun-baked clay, on papyrus or on lapidary monuments in a type of relief and intaglio. A fine sense of layout and composition may be observed in the Egyptian hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts -- on surfaces as varied as stelae, wall and papyrus. We see consummate mastery of stroke progression and structure in the early Chinese and the Indus Valley scripts, using wood and bone, clay and steatite to write on, chisel and stylus to write with. From the calligrammatic quality of the famous Cretan Phaistos disc, to the intricacy and weight of Mayan and Aztec writing carved on stone monuments, are preserved examples to nourish the spirit of subsequent Calligraphy.

Cave Paintings -- vibrant with the life and movement

From the dawn of human history, around 20,000 B.C., we see, spanning a dozen millenia, man's earliest known efforts to express himself visually. In Europe, mysterious markings on stones; herds of wild animals thundering across dark cave walls, the energy of the hunt, brought to life in paintings of rich earth colours, executed in fine naturalistic detail. In India, at Bhimbetka and other places, about 8,000 B.C., graphically strong, accurate drawings of bird and animal shapes, a telling account of a hunt, simple geometric patterns -- all features of mesolithic cave art with a common elements of design and form, a close consonance with nature.

Mayan Hieroglyphs -- bold forms create powerful images

Simple, basic geometric shapes, are combined and juxtaposed to compose highly stylised, representational images, pictographs and ideograms of man and gods, of natural and mythical beasts.

This was the script of the Mayan empire of Central America - a script combining ideograms with phonetic elements.

There is a bold, direct use of primary shapes, of forms curving in on themselves, contained within square or circular grids. Chiselled with obsidian knives into massive rocks, monolithic stelae and monuments, they create a style that has an aura of timeless, absolute authority; of immovable immutable, implacable power.

Cuneiform- Three-dimensionally textured surfaces


















Arabic -- elegant, flowing letters

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