shí shū zhī dào 识书之道
The Way to Recognize Good Calligraphy
This refers to the way to judge the artistic quality of calligraphy. Wang Sengqian(426-485) of the Southern Dynasty and Zhang Huaiguan (dates unknown) of the Tang Dynasty held that the primary criterion for appreciating calligraphy is whether it features a spiritual liveliness; the concern about the way of how to use the brush and ink is secondary. Both of them valued a calligraphic work’s spiritual verve and structural integrity and despised an excessive obsession with superficial decorum and practical usefulness. This preference represents a major criterion for appreciating ancient Chinese calligraphy.
A truly good calligrapher cares mainly about a calligraphic work’s innate charm, not about characters’ external appearances. Provided that a deep insight is gained into the spiritual profundity and liveliness of calligraphic script as a whole, all minor aspects of it will become recognizable as well. (Zhang Huaiguan: On Characters with and without Analyzable Components)
Wisdom has no boundary; rules are by no means fixed. All calligraphic works with an innate appeal, liveliness, structural integrity, and overall impact are excellent, whereas those whose sole aim is to pursue superficial pomp and functional relevance are shoddy works. (Zhang Huaiguan: Comments on Calligraphy)