August 15, 2019 30

Why write? Penmanship for the 21st Century | Jake Weidmann | TEDxMileHigh

Why write? Penmanship for the 21st Century | Jake Weidmann | TEDxMileHigh

Translator: Helena Bowen
Reviewer: Denise RQ But a pen is a simple thing, isn’t it? It doesn’t have a battery
or a motherboard. It doesn’t require a service plan
or a satellite orbiting the Earth in order to function. It’s never smarter
than you are, which I like. (Laughter) And if you were to drop it in water, or any distance higher
than your own knee on a hard surface, it would not be destroyed. In fact, purchasing
an insurance plan for it would be, well, silly,
and slightly ridiculous. Yet, this simple pen has shaped
the very world in which we live. It has recorded the discoveries
of scientists and inventors. It has charted the course
for nearly every explorer who has braved the open ocean
or explored the vast terrain. Wars have begun and ended at its wave and the doctrine of nearly every one
of the world’s religions was inscribed at its tip. It has recorded the genius
of composers and artists alike, and more lovers have succumb
at its tip than any of Cupid’s arrows. (Laughter) You see, more than a pen,
this is a vital part of our humanity. It is the facilitator to genius,
the strongest weapon in war time, the baton passed
from one generation to the next, the needle on the Richter
scale of our hearts, and the connection between God and man. Yet, for the first time in history, the value of this amazing tool
hangs in the balance. With 41 out of 50 states
no longer requiring handwriting to be a fundamental part
of their curriculum, like everything else in our culture, we declare its value by what we teach
or do not teach our children. Yet I stand before you today
not only as an advocate for the pen, but as your advocate as well, for while the hand empowers the pen,
the pen empowers the man. So empower yourselves today
and write this down. Use this and you will develop
not one but three forms of literacy. The first form of literacy
is that of historical literacy. You see, we have a vast
chronology of handwriting because man has been writing by hand
for literally thousands of years. In every culture, time period, and nation
has had its own form of handwriting, and they are each as unique
as one individual’s is to another’s. I could regale you with a vast background
on each one of these forms, but let me bring things
a little closer to home and bring you more quickly up to speed. This is America’s first style
of penmanship and the forefather of cursive. It is called Spencerian script,
created by Platt Rogers Spencer in the middle of the 19th century
when he was only 13 years old. Not only did this boy create one of the most dynamic forms
of penmanship known to man he also had a beautiful philosophy
and even theology behind his handwriting. You see, he believed that God,
being the originator of all beauty, had instilled his beauty in nature, so if Spencer could take
his cues from nature, then he would have the beauty of God
in his own handwriting. Not bad for a 13 year old. So, this is one of the pieces that I did, not only as a nod to Spencerian script but to show the place
from which it was inspired. He was inspired by the flowing lines
he saw in the streams by his house, the gentle lean of the wheat
blowing in the wind, and the rolling clouds
over mountain peaks. Spencer’s form was not only genius
in its appearance, but it was a thing of brilliance
in function as well. You see, today, the way that we typically write is
we plant our palm on the side of our hand, and we use a whole variety
of horrible pen grips, and we write using
mainly finger movement. This puts stress on all
of the smallest joints, muscles, tendons, and in the end, it results
in what we know as writer’s cramp. Back in the day,
Platt Rogers Spencer devised that his handwriting should be written
with the knuckles up towards the ceiling using muscular movement,
which is movement at the wrist, and whole arm movement
for those larger graceful curves, so you could write all day long
and never get writer’s cramp. There were others that followed
in Spencer’s pen-strokes. This is Louis Madarasz, regarded as the greatest
ornamental penman who ever lived. He built on Spencer’s fundamental form to bring us some of the most
dynamic scripts known to man, one of which is said to have inspired
the Coca-Cola logo, one of the longest standing,
most dynamic logos of all times. Or this man, F.B. Courtney,
the pen wizard, so-called because of the magic
created at the tip of his pen. It was said that Courtney,
whenever he taught, would go into a room and fill a chalkboard
with museum-worthy flourishing and script, and then, at the end, he would
take a piece of chalk in each hand, stand at the chalkboard and sign his name
simultaneously in opposite directions as if conducting an orchestra. (Laughter) Now I know what you’re saying,
“Jake, this is all well and good, but I’m afraid my penmanship
has sailed and sunk.” (Laughter) “I write in chicken scratch.” “I’m sorry, I was just not born with the natural facilities
that these masters were.” Well, let me encourage you a bit, and possibly make you
feel worse about yourself. (Laughter) This is J.C. Ryan, the handless penman. He was a man born without hands
who made his living in penmanship. Any more excuses? (Laughter) You see, these are the heroes of our past, these are the builders
of our handwriting heritage. Newton said we only reach great heights
“by standing on the shoulders of giants”. I tell you that my hand
only moves so gracefully because I have rehearsed
the strokes of masters. Use this and you will develop
intellectual literacy. In college, I actually got
my degree in psychology, largely because I did not think
I was going to make it as an artist. Of course, I practiced my artwork
and my handwriting incessantly, so much so that I gained a reputation
among my professors who were handing around my essay tests saying that they looked like
the Declaration of Independence. (Laughter) Well, in one psychology course, which was Cognitive Psychology, we actually studied how handwriting
helped develop the brain. I took copious and beautiful notes. (Laughter) And what we discovered
when we studied this was that during the different
tactile movements of doing handwriting, the brain is actually
engaged in more areas, and the information
is engrained into the brain. The same was not found to be true
with typing, however, which does not involve the same type
of differential tactile movement. Handwriting was also found to be
incredibly helpful in small children who were learning to read,
because by forming the individual letters, they had a deeper understanding
of the anatomy of each one and were therefore able to recognize it
when it came time to read it on the page. Moreover, cursive was found to be
even more beneficial to the brain. Researchers and scientists have done
brain scans on children learning cursive and found that the different
parts of the brain which are engaged are similar to those adults typically use
when writing and doing higher reasoning. The screen went blank
when the kids were typing because it didn’t involve
the same type of tactile movement. So, let me point out the fact that not only has technology brought us
this amazing information, but in this case, it stands
as the champion of handwriting. One thing we need to stop doing is putting technology and handwriting
in opposing corners. People often assume that with
my old ideals and ancient art forms that I am somehow stuck in the past,
and therefore, I must hate technology. Let me assure you,
I do not hate technology. (Laughter) In fact, I am a proud Apple user. I have an iPhone, iPad, iMac, Macbook. I have my own website, Twitter,
Instagram, and Facebook accounts and I drive around in a horseless
carriage like everybody else, so don’t try and tell me
that I’m stuck in the past. (Laughter) Beyond acknowledging the fact
that we are in a modern age, I do believe that typing
is a very fundamental tool that children do need to learn. However, they should not be learning it
at the expense of handwriting. (Applause) Thank you. You see, schools are leaning all the time
more and more so on technology to help move kids down the conveyor belt
of the educational system, but what we need to do
is be a good steward of both and listen to what
our technology is telling us and pick up the pen and keep writing. You see it is not technology
that is the direct enemy of the pen, it is our dependency on technology. The greater we grow
our dependency on technology, what we may soon find
is that we’ve created the most technologically advanced way
of creating illiteracy. Use this and you will develop
creative literacy. The handwriting is such a personal act and is it any wonder
when you can actually use your own signature interchangeably
with your finger print. You see writing captures
more than our thoughts, it records our emotions; it even captures
our personalities down on paper. We all know the power
of a handwritten note. Ever since I was a kid, one
of the first people who inspired me to start working on my handwriting
was my own mother. She used to pack my lunch
for me every day in school, and she would always put a napkin in there
with her beautiful handwriting on it. My whole day could fall apart,
I could fail the spelling test, be picked last for kickball,
and go down into a lunchroom with a lunch lady screaming her way
out of a hair net at wayward children who were throwing milk cartons through
the air like hand grenades on D-Day (Laughter) and I would open up my lunch box
and I would see that note on top of my peanut butter and jelly
sandwich and a bag full of Cheetos and the whole world went still. Some things just stick with you. Thanks, Mom. And so, this love for the pen
was nurtured so early in life. When I picked up my first calligraphy pen,
I was disappointed at its quality and disappointed at the general lack
of available tools on the market. So I took it upon myself
to learn how to create my own pen. I taught myself how to use the lathe and I started shaping
a whole wide variety of exotic hardwoods, pulling out their grain, contouring their shape perfectly
to fit my pen grip. I would also add little bits of ornament, dynamic shape to give flare
and romance to them. Then, I would fit my own nibs, I would mix my own ink, until finally I was able
to put pen to paper. I have since created hundreds of pens
for penmen around the world so that the art of the pen might thrive. Since I made my first calligraphy pen
almost eight years ago, it has marked the greatest growth spurt
for me as an artist. In 2011, I became the youngest person to ever achieve
the title of Master Penman, and I stand with only
11 others in the world. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) As the last requirement
to become a Master Penman, you have to make your own certificate. Of course, right? (Laughter) So here it is, this is my certificate
executed on calf skin vellum. It has six styles of calligraphy,
two types of gold leaf gilding, painting, illustration, and beyond that, I carved the pen that I wrote it with
and the frame it went in out of mahogany. (Applause) Now, those last two were not required as part of the program, but I wanted them to be expressed
in the context of my certificate, and I don’t get out much, so… (Laughter) Once I learned the discipline
of this fine art, I started incorporating it into
the other mediums that I had done before, finding that the written word
gave such powerful life to my artwork. I learned the disciplines of flourishing
and the rules which govern its script and started changing
the whole world around me. In one instance, at least, I created
this two dimensional design and got the opportunity
to translate it through wood carving into this four-foot slab of mahogany,
entirely carved by hand. Or there’s this piece. This is done with one
of my handmade calligraphy pens. It’s a portrait of Christ that is
done in one continuous stroke. It’s a spiral which starts
at the center of his nose, it goes outward around itself 175 times. The line contours his face and gets thicker and thinner
to create shadow and highlight and then, in the end,
evens out to a perfect oval. So you see, more than a form
of writing or communication, this is an art form for me. As an artist, and as a master penman, it is my goal to see that it lives on
to see the dawn of a new generation. But won’t you join me because as I have shown you,
it is a powerful link to our past? It is the aid to our life-long learning, and it is the conduit through which
self-expression might flourish. May we always keep it
ever close to our hearts. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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