Calligraphy critics always comment on the whole work before studying its parts in detail. The critic moves from the whole work to the details, and then from the details to the whole work again.
The most important thing concerning the composition of a calligraphic work is liaison between the characters and lines, which demonstrates rhythm in changes and dynamics in stillness.The liaison can be realized in three ways, as follows:
The Liaison between Blood and Vein
The characters in each line should be linked to and match each other in both shape and manner. Writing characters is like entertaining guests. You should look after all the guests, make them feel at ease so that they can talk cheerfully and humorously. No one should feel uncomfortable and lonely.
Wang Xianzhi, son of the famous Wang Xizhi, wrote Mid-Autumn Scroll in running-cursive hand. This scroll since ancient times has been praised as an excellent calligraphic model in the liaison between blood and vein. Only 22 characters are visible on this scroll, but they still demonstrate the feature of coherence. On each line, the characters or their strokes are connected in a “onestroke way of writing.” This scroll was collected by the Ming Emperor Qianlong in his Sanxi Studio.
Coexistence of Substance and Blank
In a calligraphic work, the places with strokes are real things and the places between characters or lines are blank. Both constitute an organic entity. As in a traditional opera, vocal music with words is true while the independent instrumental music that precedes, follows or comes in the middle of an area is empty, which arouses enthusiasm and heightens the atmosphere. In a piece of Western music, the process in which the music decreases gradually and even disappears is one of from substance to blank. The blank plays a role the substance cannot play. A line from a classical poem describes it thus: “Here quietness seems better than the music itself.”
In calligraphy, the characters and blanks appear simultaneously when the dots and strokes are placed on the paper. They can not be revised. Unlike other arts such as painting, especially oil painting, when there is time for the painter to think about and revise the painting time and again, calligraphy is strict, and needs a delicate, dexterous and proficient mind and hand.
This is another way to seek changes in strictness. The seal, official and formal scripts follow a strict rule which demands that all characters are placed on the central axis of the line – like beads on a hidden string.
But cursive and running scripts do not follow this rule closely. Most characters do not follow the central axis, and some are far away from it. On the same line, characters can be crooked and not well proportioned. In Du Fu’s Ode to He Lanxian (see next page) written by Huang Tingjian of the Song Dynasty in cursive hand, all the characters are crooked and free.