After @accidentalmystery posted this 19th century blotter page, I googled asemic writing. Turns out, it’s a form of illegible, wordless writing and better yet, there’s a whole art form based around it.
Influenced by cave paintings, doodles and children’s drawings, the meaning of asemic writing is deliberately left open so viewers can interpret it in their own way. It’s primal and works on an unconscious level, blurring the boundaries between writing and art.
Asemic writing has its roots in the earliest forms of written communication and strangely, is thought to stem from the work of two drunk Chinese Tang Dynasty calligraphers: “Crazy” Zhang Xu and Huai “Drunk” Su. Legend has it that whenever Zhang Xu was inebriated, he would use his hair as a brush to perform his art, and upon his waking up, he would be amazed by the quality of those works but failed to produce them again in his sober state.
In Hitsuzendō, the whole body is used to push a large brush and ink, usually on newspaper roll. Often practised standing, the process results in expressive, spiritual works that aim to focus the mind.
More recently, poets, writers and artists have experimented with wordless mark-making to explore abstraction and express their ideas.
Man Ray’s poem, Paris, Mai 1924 consists of different sized black dashes, Henri Michaux‘s compulsive, calligraphic drawings expressed his “interior gestures” and Cy Twombly‘s paintings often incorporated frenetic scribbles and scrawls.
This is just the tip of the iceberg; it’s a fascinating subject. Go take a look at Tim Gaze’s magazine to see the breadth and scope of asemic art worldwide.