Japanese calligraphy, much like Chinese and Korean, stems from a centuries-old tradition, as a perfect expression of Eastern aesthetics and philosophy. With all its diversity and richness, Far Eastern calligraphy maintains a balance of content and form: it depicts signs, thus being a carrier of meaning; at the same time, its form – a painterly trace of the calligrapher’s gesture – conveys the artist’s individual emotions and experiences. Due to the use of special accessories and application of a specific technique and style, the process of creating a calligraphy becomes a strictly codified activity. The creative act itself, though seemingly spontaneous, is in fact the outcome of a number of trials and repetitions, and consequently a fully controlled activity. As in many traditional Japanese disciplines, the training process in calligraphy can be likened to a way or path: not only does the artist continue to improve his or her skills throughout his or her lifetime but it also involves the ongoing development of his or her own personality.
Japanese calligraphy is quite well known and highly valued in Europe. It has been internalized by the West as one of the distinct characteristics of the culture of the East. Roland Barthes even entitled his book about Japan Empire of Signs. It is, however, worthwhile to ponder the question of how traditional calligraphy is perceived and understood by the contemporary European. She perceives it primarily through the prism of the experience of modern art: gives a lively response to its form, to the painterly gesture; notices the strong element of expression and abstraction in it. However, she does not read its signs, which is why – without additional explanation – the content of calligraphy is incomprehensible to her. Reception of Japanese calligraphy in the West is thus principally different from the Japanese understanding of art. A viewer educated inside Western culture notes different values in a Japanese calligraphy, and how she deciphers it may sometimes be a far cry from the artist’s intention.
The popularity of calligraphy is evidenced by numerous exhibitions held over many years in Poland, at venues including the Manggha Museum. This is splendidly exemplified by the work of Riko Takahashi, a representative of modern calligraphy who perceives this creative endeavour as her life’s mission; for years she has been training students, conducting calligraphy workshops for anyone interested, and trying to popularize this fine Japanese tradition. In 2013, when the Mistress showed her works in Kraków for the first time, her expressive compositions rendered in bold brushstrokes elicited a lively response from the public. The most recent exhibition of Riko Takahashi’s work at the Manggha Museum’s Gallery, held in the summer of 2017, is a true festival of calligraphy in Kraków.