Li: Calligraphy as Escape from the Self

CATEGORIES: November 2016

by Dr. Tonglu Li

Chinese calligraphy is my spiritual escape, although I am far from being an expert at it. As an amateur, I especially enjoy the time appreciating or practicing it in the basement (my man cave) during the middle of the night when everything settles down. It is a carefree moment, during which nothing pragmatic is involved. With a volume of calligraphy work in hand I can contemplate such questions as what the differences are between scribble and calligraphy, but without worrying about publishing on the topic. Sometimes even the content of the calligraphy works can be put aside. What truly matters are the form, its endless variations, and the passionate flow of vitality it conveys under the serene surface of the paper and ink.


Calligraphy has taught me to maintain a pilgrim’s attitude toward the great heritages of the masters in history, to temporarily abandon my egoist self, and to resist the strong will to be “creative” at the beginning. Meanwhile, to become master, I know that someday I have to regain my “self” and express it with brush and ink so that my calligraphy works can eventually become a mediated or alternative “selfie” of me, without me being present in the picture. It will be a long process, and I might not succeed. But there is no need to rush or be anxious, since every moment of learning is equally enjoyable and – as the song goes – “you can’t always get what you want.”