I recently posted my first image of a new series of paintings I am working on inspired by the Chinese characters for the hexagrams. I have been calling the “characters” glyphs. because when working in the program Illustrator when you want to see what a particular font looks like the program names all the fonts glyphs whether it is a text font or an image font.
I have been corresponding with James Hewes since he bought my font of the Chinese “glyphs” for the hexagrams. James has been doing research on ancient Chinese literature and the origins of the I Ching. He is also creating interpretations of these characters/glyphs in the medium of clay. When I got that pressing urge to use real paint again I was inspired by seeing Jim’s clay I Ching characters.
Jim wrote to tell me that I am using the wrong word and should not be calling the Chinese Characters “glyphs.” He always has something interesting and relevant to say regarding the I Ching so will include here a quote from his reasoning on this subject.
I think it is correct to call the Chinese writing as “characters.” When they speak of the ancient form the term “character” is still used rather than hieroglyph. Even the ancient bronze inscriptions are referred to as “characters.” I’ve never read anything that has referred to the characters as hieroglyphs except for one comparing the inscriptions on the shells to hieroglyphs. They seem much more abstract or primitively symbolic than say the hieroglyphs of Egypt. Using glyph to me is like calling them dingbats. It’s really not correct. When it comes to Chinese the meaning of the word is very important. Translation, interpretation or just mumbo jumbo. Too broad or loosely used and words meanings change character.
The way the Chinese classify their writing evolves this way. First there was the “shell and bone” style writing on the tortoise shells and oracle bones. Then there was the “Bell and Pot” style writing for the characters cast on the bronzes. (14th to the 3rd century B.C.) Then the “Stone Drum” style of writing the character around the 8th century BC. probably the style in which Confucius wrote around 500 BC and much more sophisticated than mere hieroglyphs or dingbats. During the Waring states period 400 BC they used what is called a Greater and Lesser Chuan style of writing. Some hundred of bamboo tablets with writing on them have been discovered from that period. It was close to the “Stone Drum” style. Next came the Lesser Chuan or “Seal Style of 221 BC which Ch’in- Shih-Huang-Te (the First Emperor) made the official style in his attempt to unify the writing of China. The various artistic forms of writing today began with him and evolved since the unification of writing, though there was some beautiful script styles along the way too.
Just to back up my reason (even if incorrect in this case) for using the word glyph, I include here the dictionary meaning of the word.
1. a carved channel or groove, esp a vertical one as used on a Doric frieze
2. rare another word for hieroglyphic
3. any computer-generated character regarded in terms of its shape and bit pattern
Since the I Ching is a lot older than computer-generated characters I defer to Jim’s correction.