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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Unlicensed writer: The lost art of calligraphy

  • Question: how much cursive do you encounter regularly? Based on my experience, I would venture to guess not very much.
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  • Question: how much cursive do you encounter regularly? Based on my experience, I would venture to guess not very much.
    The largest blocks of cursive that I encounter on a regular basis are in the papers I write for my history class, and even then I utilize a print script about half the time. Every once in a blue moon I might get a handwritten card or a quick scrawled memo from my grandmother, and those tend to be in cursive, but the majority of the written communication I receive has been translated into ones and zeroes at some point, which means it's probably in Times New Roman, Helvetica or some other common script. Beyond that, there's not much cursive in my life outside of Hallmark, Chick-fil-A, and Coca-Cola.
    This perturbs me. While there may be a certain irony to my objecting to the consequences of the Digital Age while I write this article on Google Drive in a standard font and size, I really don't care. I like cursive, and I don't want to watch it die. To be frank, it's prettier than the style you're reading now, and I feel that beauty is just as essential to life on this planet as bread and water. But just as video killed the proverbial radio star, the keyboard killed calligraphy, and we seem to be gravitating towards an age when handwriting will be an archaic art.
    This transition obviously didn't occur overnight, so the question is: what happened? Well, Watt happened. James Watt, the man who turned Newcomen's funny little steam engine into a more practical machine, sparked the Industrial Revolution around 1770 and ushered in an age of efficiency unlike any known before.
    Before James Watt, if you made something, odds were that you knew who was going to use it, and seeing as they wouldn't be expecting it for a while anyways, you could put a little extra time into making it special.
    However, once people began to expect things quickly and cheaply, there was no longer time to endow a product with a special beauty, and the only thing standing in the way of the death of cursive was the time required for someone to invent a typewriter.
    Perhaps I would now compose a lamentation about how the future is doomed to be a monochrome collection of Euclidean shapes, if it wasn't for the fact that this kind of thing has happened before, roughly 12,000 years ago. Prior to that time, one could find several rather decorative everyday objects such as bowls and knives, but afterwards they started to become more utilitarian.
    The reason was because the people who used to have a lot of time on their hands after a bit of hunting and gathering were now suddenly tied up with farming. The amount of beauty people encountered in their lives decreased in the name of calories. The funny thing is that while aesthetics took a quick turn for the worse at the dawn of the Neolithic Era, the excess food supply eventually meant that some people no longer had to farm, and could devote their time to other things, which included making prettier bowls and knives!
    Page 2 of 2 - They didn't just relearn how to make pretty things from clay and bone either. They started using porcelain and iron! These were masterpieces that early man could have never hoped to achieve, simply because the resources were never available.
    It is my premonition that we're just now coming out of the downswing of artistic achievement, but our descendants may come to thank us for enduring it. The amount of time the Industrial and Digital Revolutions are saving is catching up with us, and we'll have to find something to do with it.
    Perhaps a small group of highly talented people will take up calligraphy again, and twist it into new and wonderful shapes we can't begin to imagine. Perhaps we may never see cave paintings again, but perhaps it will permit a Sistine Chapel to arise.
    Clarke Peterson is a 16-year-old student who lives in Leavenworth.

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