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2003
the dance of the pen
Listen to the man: “The hands think,” said Reynolds. “The nervous system is continuous, so how can we say that the hands don’t think? Often the conscious mind merely interferes with the hand. Students learning to write reach a certain proficiency, and their eyes, like a police matron, take all the freedom away from the rhythmical movement. I tell them not to watch grimly because the eye is a cold judge that frustrates spontaneity. Let your hand move!”

 

Then calligraphy instruction shifts to life instruction: “Wise men since the beginning of culture have been telling us that the one immutable law of the universe is change. Why do people hate, fear, and deny change? It has brought them everything they value most. We can’t seem to realize that there need be no more war, no more racism, no more poverty. We act as if we were stone blind, and hang onto the early twentieth century as if it were the rock of ages and the guarantee of perpetual happiness. Change being what it is, we’re going to lose everything anyhow; so what do we have to lose? Why don’t we, then, drop the hostilities and just live?

“Only the open hand of the human being can grow the living tree that should be our present and our future. The whole universe is at our doorstep; all we have to do is open the door.”

More: “To think that art has two parts, one intellectual and the other servile . . . no. It’s a false dichotomy, absolutely false. Universities from the Renaissance on have put criticism above work, above action. They claim that there is the thinking or philosophical man and the man of action—that the two cannot be in one person. This is one of the worst heresies in Western civilization. It accounts for much of the mess that we’re in, in colleges and universities, where if a work is rational and analytical, it’s respectable.”

Now, having heard a sample, you can easily imagine that Reynolds, and by association his hugely popular little letter-drawing class, might generate ill will from some. A vocal rabble-rouser who backed down for no one, Reynolds had friends at Reed, but just as many, or more, enemies. Every year he had to bitterly defend his calligraphy and graphic arts classes.

Some, it is said, were merely jealous of his overflowing classes, his intensely loyal following, his awards, his TV shows (in the ’60s, Reynolds made a series of 20 programs on italic handwriting for public television), and his media recognition as an outstanding teacher. Many of his detractors believed that calligraphy classes just weren’t academic enough for Reed. Year after year, this was the battle being fought behind and between the strokes of the edged pen.

Occasionally a student would actually drop the calligraphy class. “One of my classmates said, ‘I’ve got better things to do than listen to some old fart rant about things he doesn’t really understand,’” Lee Littlewood ’68 recalls. “A few others thought lettering was little-old-lady stuff. But those were rare opinions. Most of the time there was something truly important in what Reynolds was saying. His take on it was probably even more important than the accuracy of his facts. It was an exciting thing for an 18- or 20-year-old in a very academic world: pick up a pen and make a mark, that was so direct. The doing vs. the thinking about it. It was perfect for the anti-Reed: you weren’t figuring it out in your head then doing it, you were doing it at the same time you were figuring it out.”

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2003