An Entire Life Dedicated To Calligraphy Prof. Dr. Uğur Derman

The art of calligraphy, which has been practiced for centuries in Turkish Islamic  Tradition and has been accelerated according to various ecoles and styles, has been advanced in Ottoman Tradition in every century starting from the reign of Sultan Mehmet  The Conqueror.

Considering the traditional Turkish arts, the calligraphy, which is one of the preliminary examples to come to mind, is for those willing to dedicate their lives to it; it is an art looking for calligraphers who practice the art with their eyes, their heart and their hand. The lexical meaning of calligraphy is writing and line which is written and performed in accordance with the principles of practice in the art literature and is known as calligraphy art which appeals to visual and aesthetic tastes.

“Painting With Writing”
Hüsnühat (the art of nice and neat writing) or calligraphy systems are used in the methods of art practice. The fact that it contains texts that provide information on a specific subject creates difficulty due to both the way of implementation and the hardship of its execution. Therefore visual and aesthetic perception of the image in the form of the writing feature outweigh.  Uğur Derman is one of the most prominent performers of the art of calligraphy and tradition which has such a long-established style and tradition, and also contributed to the historical and academic development of this art…

He describes his life, his love for calligraphy, and the efforts he has embraced in this endeavor in the same way as the soft folds of a calligraphy letter. “Sir, I’m a pharmacy, but I’m a man who’s devoted to our traditional arts. In 1960, I became a pharmacist, but from 1955 on, I became interested in traditional arts, especially calligraphy. My master is Necmeddin Okyay. I’ve been interested in calligraphy for 63 years.  During this time, I have always been interested in this art. But I have a malady called amblyopia, innate, I guess, due to the inability of my sight functions I had to leave calligraphy practice after a while. Then I realized that; there is not a lot of reference source for the relevant artists in terms of history and technique of these arts. After 1961, I am dedicated to researching the history of traditional Turkish arts. Especially the calligraphy. Now that I look back, I see that there are over 30 books and more than 500 articles.”

Calligraphy From Iran To Ottoman
Considering the historical development of calligraphy, although its origins are based on the Arabic alphabet, Uğur Derman indicates Istanbul as a touchstone while explaining the main development of the art within the framework of Turkish-Ottoman culture and art and how art has developed in this process of change. “Calligraphy is a great art that glorifies in the hands of Turks for nearly a thousand years.This art was performed by the Great Seljuks in Iran, then the Anatolian Seljuks and finally the Ottoman, respectively.However, calligraphy gained speed especially in the Ottoman period with the conquest of Istanbul. Again, during this period, it also acquires a national character. While it is considered as an Arabic alphabet, starting from the 1490s, calligraphy enters into the process of kneading and interpretation within the scope of Ottoman art gathering-places. From this date on we can call this art a genuine Turkish-Ottoman art. With this beginning, its graphics and aesthetic value increased and continued until the 20th century. Almost no retreat had ever happened.”

In the art of calligraphy is a long and laborious process that continues with a master-apprentice relationship. The student eager to learn pays utmost attention to the words of the master, and also to the style of the hand, and to the style of calligraphy. Starting with one-on-one lessons, the process proceeds towards the path of the apprentice following the steps such as the apprenticeship, journeyman and eventually mastership. Prof. Dr. Uğur Derman explains why the art of calligraphy is called Turkish-Ottoman art by drawing attention to this characteristic, and how it has become aesthetically rooted in this period.

Zakat Of Art
“Calligraphy is learnt one one-to-one within the scope of the master-student relationship, not with an educational understanding provided in a public classroom. Not in a public class with collective education. Every student is taken care of by his/her teacher one by one. The most important thing is the fact that there is no material interest or accounting plan between the teacher and the student during the transfer of information, style, and attitude. The calligraphy master owes his student a debt o gratitude because back in the old days his own master also did not have any financial expectations. This is called the alms of art. This chain is moving in such a manner that it never breaks. Of course, art can renew itself every century. It has not been stuck in its traditional form and has been progressed and improved in terms of style and aesthetic style. You’ll appreciate that change in art is utterly important. This tradition brings along the aesthetic change and the reinterpretation of the form.” After 1928, the calligraphy is entering a static process with the Alphabet Revolution. But by that time, the master had been able to move forward without compromising from the apprentice relationship. The age of the generation can read the Ottoman letters and the new generations learned the Latin letters. But I can say that this pause process has begun to change slightly for the last twenty and thirty years. A more concerned, a more focused on generation began to catch up in this field. This art, after all, is practiced by heart. There are aspirants who set their heart on this art. In other words, after a process of disconnection, the calligraphy was born again. But it never was like the glorious period of the Ottoman Empire.”

Western Interest On Eastern Caligraphy
Although the changes brought by the modern age have negative effects on the transfer of our traditional arts to the next generations, maybe it aroused the interest of Orientalists over time with orientalist wonder.Uğur Derman attributes this interest to the tradition of calligraphy as well as its visual, aesthetic richness.

“Westerners’ interest in our traditional art has always been intense. Maybe you heard the name of a French painter called Léopold Lévy. He came to our country in the 1940s and made a lot of interest and compliment to our traditional arts, especially calligraphy. We hear that Pablo Picasso was very interested in calligraphy and he added that he admires these lines. Moreover, it is the Algerian line that he saw, if he could have seen the Ottoman calligraphy works, I am sure that his interest would increase. There are also studies called scribbleby calligraphists. What is a scribble indeed? Once the calligrapher finishes his ordered piece of work and doesn’t have an occupation, just like how the footballer does the practice or the pianist works four hours a day, he also makes letters and sentences with his reed pen and ink in order to practice his hand skills.  And the top of the sheet is so full that it’s called a scratch. As it is written with carbon black ink, it seems even darker. Westerners are fond of this work, they see it as a figurless painting. Interestingly, I witnessed the western artists or the enthusiasts most admire these messy sketches with disarranged lines”.

The calligraphy, which lived its most magnificent days during the Ottoman Empire, is nowadays far away those days. UgurDerman, who also mentioned this point during our conversation, is showing one of the examples of tens of calligraphy produced labouringly and decorating the walls of his house.  He begins to read the harmony, formerly used as ornaments on doors and window lids, in the stanza practised by Kadi-ul asker Mustafa İzzet Efendi in accordance with the grace of calligraphy: “N’olagülmîh-ibâbıakdesintâcolsaşâhâna/Kisensinpâdişehlerpâdişehieyşeh-ilevlâk (…). Eymefhar-ıdüâlemeyâseyyide’l-beşer”


A Major Art Exalted At The Hands Of The Turks
Calligraphy is a major art that have been exalted at the hands of the Turks for about a millennium. The art’s major eras are called: Great Seljukian Empire in Iran, Anatolian Seljukian Empire and finally Ottoman eras. But especially during Ottoman era, the calligraphy gained pace right after conquest of Istanbul. It also acquired a national character during the same era.

Written Authorization
The person occupying in calligraphy is called as “calligraphist”. Calligraphistshave grown in the master-apprentice relationship for centuries. The person who is aspiring to learn calligraphy should take lessons from a calligraphist.First of all, the spelling of letters one by one, then the merging forms of two letters and its rules are learned. Later on,it is passed to mergingmore than two letters that is, line study. For this, initially usually a long ode, then some verse of the Koran and hadiths, prayers, words of wisdom are written. Candidate of calligraphist takes a kind of exam by writing before two or three calligraphistsat the end of this training, which takes approximately three to five years.  If calligraphistsapprove this writing, they sign it. This is called “written authorization”.

By: Necati Bulut / Photo: Bahar Alban

*This article was  published in the  May– June issue of Marmara Life.

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