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One of the oldest forms of communication that has existed is still prevalent in the modern world, known to most by the name of calligraphy. Combining the aspects of communication and visual art, this form of written style has its roots deeply embedded in ancient Chinese culture that dates back to 200 BC. Over the years, many other cultures with their respective styles of visual communication have impacted calligraphy. What we know today as modern calligraphy is an evolved form of the traditional styles, and this article will try to shed some light on the differences it has with the traditional forms.

In this article, you will learn about the history of calligraphy through the ages. You will also learn what traditional calligraphy is and what modern calligraphy is. Furthermore, you will learn what the differences between both are.

Calligraphy through the ages

Starting from social media to ancient scrolls, calligraphy has been vastly prevalent in human society. Its impact on the culture of people and the societies they inhabit has lasted over centuries. Even in modern times, calligraphy is continuously reinventing itself to create its own place in the world of modern forms of visual communication. While different trends in visual communication usually fade within a few years or decades, calligraphy has remained relevant through centuries.

Origins of calligraphy and the different styles

Chinese Calligraphy

Calligraphy’s origin can be traced back to the ancient Chinese Shang dynasty. During these times writings were usually engraved, and animal bones or turtle shells were used to do the same. Calligraphy became an official script in the Chinese culture sometime during the 3rd century BC. These can be considered as the earliest cursive script examples that the world had encountered. It was the Chinese and their calligraphy style that later influenced the calligraphy styles in the Korean and Japanese cultures.

Islamic Calligraphy

Similarly, Islamic calligraphy is another important branch of this time-tested mode of visual communication. Its roots can be traced back to sometime during the 6th century and draw heavily from the Quran for its influence. Written from the right side to the left, this style of calligraphy can be found in varying styles. These include the Naskh, Kulfic, modern calligraphy, and regional calligraphy styles. Apart from the usual paper, Islamic calligraphy also makes use of tiles, carpets, inscriptions, and vessels for being written on.

Western Calligraphy

The West did not stay back when it came to calligraphy, with Latin and Greek alphabets being a result of the evolution of Western calligraphy styles. The main agenda of this style of calligraphy was to spread Christianity through the hand-copying of religious texts and the Bible using calligraphy,

Post-printing Press/ Modern Calligraphy

However, a shift happened when the printing press got invented during the middle of the fifteenth century in Europe. While other forms of hand-written lettering started to fade out, calligraphy held its ground and remained relevant. The most fascinating aspect is that calligraphy evolved itself to be relevant and useful for other purposes when its original purpose ceased to exist.

Although the present age offers most designers with the option of choosing downloadable calligraphy fonts from the internet, using authentic hand-written calligraphy is always a premium choice. Owing to the fact that hand-written calligraphy communicates through itself a distinct voice and personality, there is huge relevance and need for artists learned in different calligraphy styles. In modern times, trends like videos using hand-written calligraphy, or bullet journals, have encouraged people to practice calligraphy and become well-acquainted in the style. The need for such artists is huge and modern calligraphy owes a great debt to such people who have kept this visual communication form relevant even today.

The history of calligraphy is more than just dates and facts. It is about a story of evolution. It is this fantastic story along with the charm that this stylistic visual communication form inherently imbibes are the main reasons for its permanence for so long. As and when society has evolved, calligraphy has evolved itself accordingly to keep up with the changing needs and demands of the populace.

What is meant by traditional calligraphy?

If you have to truly understand the meaning of traditional calligraphy, an entirely separate article needs to be created. This article should focus on the calligraphy and its history, the differences between calligraphy and cursive, and what is the actual meaning of calligraphy. However, for the sake of this article, it is important to have a summarized idea of what traditional calligraphy refers to. Traditional calligraphy is not just pretty writing but contains so much more. However, one distinguishable aspect that makes it unique is the old-fashioned writing style that it employs.

To understand what traditional calligraphy is, it is important to first learn what the rules of traditional calligraphy are. It is these rules that will allow you to spot the details and distinguish this calligraphy style from modern calligraphy. For someone trying to explore the modern style of calligraphy, it is very important that he/she gets himself/herself well acquainted with the rules of traditional calligraphy. While modern calligraphy focuses on breaking the rules, one needs to know what these rules are before attempting to break them.

Traditional calligraphy has a number of different styles that a person can use. These styles, commonly known as hands, have two distinct schools that they belong to. These schools of traditional calligraphy are the Spencerian and the Copperplate.

Both the Spencerian school and the Copperplate school have specific rules that need to be followed, and it is important to know them to best create these traditional calligraphy styles. For anybody wanting to learn traditional calligraphy, Copperplate is the most recommended style. Using a pointed pen that has been specifically made to help create this calligraphy style, it familiarizes beginners with the rules and the vocabulary needed to learn calligraphy.

What is meant by modern calligraphy?

While traditional calligraphy can be fit inside the two distinct schools of Copperplate and Spencerian, modern calligraphy is a little harder to define. It is so owing to the simple fact that it incorporates myriad styles under its umbrella. However, to define what modern calligraphy is in the shortest manner possible, it can be considered as any form of calligraphy that is not a traditional form of calligraphy. While traditional calligraphy sticks with rules and particular formations and strokes, modern calligraphy likes to bend these rules and have fun with the style and script. It is a highly creative form of calligraphy and allows much greater leeway than what the traditional forms allow.

Some salient features of modern calligraphy are as follows:

  • Nonadherence to traditional rules – Traditional calligraphy requires people to adhere to particular letterforms to be considered proper. The letters need to be absolutely immaculate and perfect. Modern styles of calligraphy on the other hand ignore these particulars and rather celebrate the deviations. Therefore, if your letters are a bit squishy or extend beyond the descender, it is absolutely okay. The imperfection of modern calligraphy is what makes it refreshing.
  • Accessible calligraphy style – While traditional calligraphy requires immaculate precision and some would even debate, an abundance of skill, modern calligraphy is much more accessible. Though even this style requires skills and practice, it is much easier to learn if a respectable amount of time is dedicated to it.
  • You can mix and match – While traditional calligraphy rigorously points out the importance of consistency, it is the inconsistency of modern styles of calligraphy that make it appealing. A modern calligrapher can choose to mix and match and even borrow letterforms from other calligraphy styles to create his/her own unique style of modern calligraphy. A traditional calligrapher does not have that permission and needs to stick with the preset rules of that particular style.

Differences between traditional calligraphy and modern calligraphy

While both forms of calligraphy look like stylistic hand-written letters from the exterior, you need to look closer into the details. This will enable you to mark out stark differences that exist between the modern and the traditional forms of calligraphy. These differences have been summarized in the bullets given below:

  • Traditional calligraphy is more sophisticated and elegant to look at. Modern calligraphy, on the other hand, is whimsical and fun.
  • Strict rules need to be followed while writing traditional calligraphy styles. Modern styles of calligraphy, however, encourage people to intentionally break these preset rules and have fun with the script and letter styling.
  • Traditional calligraphy usually has a more slanted script, while the slant in modern styles of the same is more upright.
  • Traditional and basic letterforms are used while writing the traditional forms of calligraphy. Modern calligraphy allows the usage of modern letterforms that incorporate loops, exalted ascenders, and dipping descenders.
  • Traditional calligraphy is ripe with a rich history as it is a style that has existed for many centuries and has stood strong against the test of time. Modern styles of calligraphy are more recent and have become hugely popular owing to social media and growing trends.
  • Traditional calligraphy uses equal spacing, consistent angles, and lines. On the other hand, modern calligraphy uses letter proportions that best suit the style of the artist. These shapes, sizes, lines, and angles can change according to the artists’ tastes and preferences.
  • The traditional style uses a more neutral color palette, while the modern style uses a brighter range of colors.
  • Pointed pens are the most common tools used to create traditional calligraphy. Modern calligraphy can be created using digital mediums and brush pens.

Irrespective of which style you prefer, both these styles of calligraphy are immensely beautiful. While one takes a restrained approach, the other one is more free-flowing, but both are equally alluring. It is important that modern calligraphers indulge themselves in the freedom that modern calligraphy offers to them. However, they should not forget the foundations that traditional calligraphy has set through time. It is these very foundations that have allowed calligraphy as a style to evolve and remain relevant for so many years. Therefore, both need and deserve to be celebrated in their own unique regards.