Man vs. Machine

Bela Huppan recently sent a seal design he created for himself and asked for some feedback. His seal has four red characters on a white background with the Chinese version of his name (胡邦貝拉 hu bang bei la) in seal script going top to bottom and right to left. Bela follows one of the basic principles of seal design—three corners have characters with many strokes and one corner has a character with less strokes; this adds variety. All four characters relatively the same in density would be dull while two characters busy and two characters loose could lead to boring symmetry. Usually the most interesting compositions, like Bela’s, will be asymmetrical with one corner different from the other three.

Beyond this, there’s not much to say because these characters probably came from a computer-generated font (there are websites that will convert regular script to seal script). In China today you can have a seal made very cheaply and quickly because the seal maker will use a computer generated font that connects to a laser which cuts the stone. These machine-made seals are easy to recognize by the straight sides of the cuts and the even depth of cut. The spacing between the lines generated by a computer are relatively even with equal thickness of line throughout. In other words, no variety. In fact, a hundred seals could be made in this way and each would be identical.

Unlike a machine, every person is different and each seal cut by an artist will be different. This is the true value of seal carving as an art. When Bela cuts this design the interaction between artist, knife, and stone will result in a one-of-a-kind work of art. Even if he tried he wouldn’t be able to make another exactly like it. Over the centuries the Chinese have written a lot about what makes a good or bad seal and I have many personal opinions and am not afraid to share them. But, until Bela’s design is cut into stone, it makes a nice computer-generated logo but it’s not yet a work of seal art.

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