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Calligraphy (from Greek καλλι calli "beauty" + γραφος graphos "writing") is the art of decorative writing. A particular style of calligraphy is described as a hand.

Calligraphy at every point in time is a conscious art, which is distinguished from the studies of epigraphy or palaeography in general. The study of permanent inscriptions engraved in metal or chiselled into stone and the forms of letters used in them is called epigraphy (q.v.). Epigraphy is a branch of the broader study of ancient handwriting in more general terms, called palaeography. Examples of graffiti can range between the two.

Western calligraphy
Western calligraphy has its roots in the days of Greek and Roman scribes, and evolved during the dark ages due to the efforts put into making illuminated manuscripts. Hand-written and hand-decorated books became less common after the invention of printing by Johann Gutenberg in the 15th century. However, at the end of the 19th century, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement rediscovered and popularised calligraphy.

Some important contemporary calligraphers are Author Baker and Hermann Zapf. As handwritten forms of communication have become more rare, calligraphy is often reserved for special occasions and events, most notably the addressing of wedding invitations and announcements. However, since the 1970s, graffiti-style lettering, a dramatic, angular, block hand, has become common in various media. Graffiti being one of the four elements of hip-hop, the style is especially associated with that milieu.

Chinese and East Asian calligraphy
East Asian calligraphy typically uses ink brushes to write Chinese characters (called Hanzi in Chinese, Kanji in Japanese, and Hanja in Korean). Calligraphy (in Chinese, Shufa 書法, in Japanese Shodō 書道, or "the way of writing") is considered an important art in East Asia and the most refined form of East Asian painting.

Calligraphy has influenced most major art styles in East Asia, including sumi-e, a style of Japanese painting using indian ink. The Japanese phonetic script hiragana was derived from cursive representations of kanji, and basic calligraphy instruction is still common in Japanese lower education.

Middle Eastern calligraphy
Arabic calligraphy is often displayed in Muslim art, because it serves as an inspiration. The practice of calligraphy is a topic of much Islamic philosophy. When used decoratively, the writing is so ornate and complex as to be almost unreadable. Calligraphy grew in part because of religious restrictions on representational art.
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