Sparsity and Density
This concept consists of several pairs of opposites: sparsity and density, brevity and thoroughness, roughness and precision, flexibility and rigor, and estrangement and intimacy. In the artistic criticism of painting and calligraphy, the term is used to mainly describe the structural arrangement, general layout, as well as dark or light, thick or thin execution of strokes in these two art forms. In literary criticism, “sparsity” and “density” often occur together. “Sparsity” means carefree, rough or sketchy. It refers especially to thoughtlessness, carefreeness or looseness in the creation of prose and poetry. “Density” means meticulous, tight or compact. It often refers to rigor and thoroughness in theme development, logic, and wording in the creation of prose and poetry, and occasionally to the demerit of piling too many words up for no good reason. Ancient Chinese believed that sparsity and density represent a unity of opposites. A good work of art should balance density with sparsity in both structure and layout.
Wang Xizhi wrote swiftly and skillfully, dipping his brush in the concave inkstone from time to time. His calligraphic writing, whether sparingly or densely spaced, looks truly beautiful. Both his regular script and cursive script were written with immense care. In repose, his flow of words can be likened to watching a city gate from far away. In motion, it can be likened to watching a meteorite in the sky. (Xiao Gang: In Answer to Prince Xiangdong for Kindly Presenting Me with a Calligraphic Work by Wang Xizhi)
There was no real regular script in ancient times… It was not until the Ming Dynasty that Wen Zhengming started to explore rules governing the structure of characters in calligraphy. His works feature a perfect balance between sparsity and density. Each stroke is in its proper place. (Xie Zhaozhe: An Orderly Narration on Five Assorted Offerings)
The merit of ci poetry composition rests on the balance of sparsity and density. (Chen Tingzhuo: Random Remarks on Ci Poetry Creation)