Chinese Calligraphy As “Heart Painting”  
("Mind Image" or "Picture of the Soul")

In the Han Dynasty, a scholar names Yang Hsiung ( 楊雄 ) stated that "Scripts are the Mind Image ( 字即心畫 )." Today some people even state that Chinese calligraphy is the electrocardiogram of the human spirits ( 書法,人類精神的心電圖 ). (

A Chinese calligrapher’s goal is to vividly and honestly convey his or her mind and intention. It does not only rely on the strokes, styles or appearances of the calligraphy. The intrinsic essence and substance must be over the form in a Chinese calligraphy artwork. Chinese calligraphy is called Heart Painting or Mind Image ( 字即心畫 ) by ancient calligraphers and other artists. We may paint a tree or landscape, but how can we “paint” our mind in a highly encrypted or abstract form consisting only Chinese characters and their strokes that can also look both beautiful and profound?

Two characters that are both beautiful and profound








In ancient Chinese paintings, one can find animals, birds, flowers and humans that were not only accurately depicted in shape and manner. Their internal substance, emotions, ideas and aspiration were also captured by the artists. Compared with Chinese painting that has a physically observable subject, Chinese calligraphy has a more abstract subject to paint – the mind. Even though Chinese calligraphy relies on its character form, structures and brushwork, then in what approach can a calligrapher paint his or her heart and speak for the soul? This is why all Chinese calligraphy masters emphasize that the mind always leads the brush ( 意在筆先 ). Since Chinese calligraphy is regarded as heart painting and a heart has no appearance or a physical object, the study of philosophy and metaphysics are required for serious calligraphers at all stages.


Images I visualize mentally before writing

Unlike Western calligraphy, dry brush strokes are viewed as a natural impromptu expression rather than a fault in Chinese calligraphy. 

Dry Brushstrokes


While Western calligraphy often pursues font-like uniformity, homogeneity of Chinese characters in one size or written neatly inside grids is considered only a craft in Chinese calligraphy. To the artist, Chinese calligraphy is a highly condensed mental activity that coordinates the mind, body and spirit to express the artist’s inner world with a beautiful style honestly and directly. It is a highly disciplined yet soothing art indeed for one's physical and spiritual well being. In judging Chinese arts, we look for the energy flow since the intrinsic beauty can only be found within the art that embodies a high energy and awareness level from the artists. This principle can be applied to all Chinese arts. Unlike oil painting, Chinese people emphasize and value the skills without amendments or retouches ( ) when practicing Chinese calligraphy. While one may add more strokes over an unsatisfied area in oil painting or Chinese brush painting, however, Chinese calligraphers focus on capturing the mindset at that very moment when they are writing with the brushes without any makeup or retouches. If any retouch is repeated on a Chinese calligraphy stroke, not only the ink densities will be inconsistent but the image of mind will be affected or twisted. It’s because this “finality” that makes Chinese calligraphy unique from other abstract arts.


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