I remember when I first started to visit Calligraphy exhibitions with a friend, he would always comment on every piece of calligraphy that we looked at together. Unless there was a ribbon which meant that it had won an award from the organization or it was done by a teacher, he would say, “The calligraphy is weak.”

At one exhibition I saw a lovely kana scroll and time stood still. Kana script is my favourite. I guess I was looking at it for a long time because he came over and asked what I was doing. He knew I couldn’t read the scroll and asked why I was taking so long looking at it. I explained that the calligraphy scroll was easy on the eyes, that it had a warm feeling for me. He promptly told me the calligraphy was weak and went about explaining technically and in great detail everything he thought was wrong with it. When I explained that it felt right to me, that it gave me an overall positive impression, this seemed to set him off. His forceful response was “You are a photographer and know nothing about calligraphy. That is why you cannot see the errors in the calligraphy.” I let it go as I thought maybe he was right.


It wasn’t until recently that I thought back to the conversation when we had a couple of friends staying with us. The topic of music came up and “Fish Heads”, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Camouflage” songs were played. As I listened to the songs, it came to me one does not have to be a musician to appreciate music, just like one does not have to be calligrapher to appreciate calligraphy or a photographer to appreciate a photo. As all art is subjective and there is no right or wrong, what counts is how you respond to it.

Please do not get me wrong, there is a time and place to criticize art. I do it all the time when I look at my own work. I also do it when I pick up a fashion magazine, when I am sitting on the train, looking at flickr, billboards, flyers and the list goes on. I do try to learn.

One book I found (own) to be of particular interest is Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits. It isn’t only a book of photographs, rather it explains the creative process that went into the choosing of these images and why.

The next time you hear or see someone criticizing calligraphy, photography, or art by calling it weak or any other negative statement, my advice would be to just smile and not comment. You cannot convince someone who has already such a firmly fixed opinion to begin a conversation.

Do you agree or disagree? Leave the comment below.