Japan Today recently posted an interesting article about how robotics are being employed to preserve a dying art: Japanese calligraphy or shodo.
Nijiya Kurota’s little hand grips a calligraphy brush dangling above a clean sheet of rice paper. The brush itself is being held dead straight, just as an expert who has spent years learning the art of “shodo”—Japanese calligraphy—would do. That’s because a robot arm is also attached to the brush and for a moment, as thick lines of glistening black ink are laid down on the page, Nijiya is transformed into a master calligrapher.
According to Seiichiro Katsura, a professor at Keio University, and the robot’s inventor, teaching Japanese calligraphy is going extinct. Sure some are practicing it and carrying on traditions, but it is no longer widely taught. Therefore, he had the idea to create a machine – a robot to carry on the tradition.
He thought if he could somehow transfer the knowledge of the masters into a robot’s memory, he could “preserve the art.” Katsura was successful and programmed his robot with the skills of Juhu Sado, a 90-year-old shodo master. Now students simply need to step up to the machine, and through a complex monitoring system, allow the robotic arm’s assistance guide their hands to near perfect replicas.
Seiichiro Katsura is quoted stating, “The process of transmitting knowledge by hand was often tedious, requiring a long process of acquiring techniques, intuition and experience. With this robot, the process becomes faster and more efficient.”
I’ve long studied successful implementations of educational technology and this is not it. While his robotic arm and software can teach a student how to successfully replicate kanji using the installed software, it does so through muscle memory. The constant repetition with subtle corrections imparts the movements into the brain until with can be repeated automatically – without feeling, techniques, intuition, or experience.
In his hopes to preserve Japanese calligraphy, Katsura has effectively destroyed it. What makes Japanese calligraphy (as well as Chinese and Korean) so magical is the art involved in creating it. This robotic process eliminates the emotion from the process making it sterile. The creation no longer is an extension of the practitioner, where mind and body work fluidly together to paint on delicate paper.
Calligraphy is art and something composed of more than a series of movements recreated. Without the emotion and character development that’s an integral part of learning calligraphy, what’s created is nothing more than a cheap imitation.
What are your thoughts. Does this robotic method of teaching remove the art from Japanese calligraphy?