The true master of art makes art look easy.sprezzatura-1

Sprezzatura, a seeming effortlessness in the development of a creation, is something many people aspire to, but it turns out to be more difficult than it looks.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard students sigh: “I’d like to learn how to work more loosely”. But looseness is not something you can learn. It’s the result of an organic process based on the thorough knowledge of figurative skills.

A mere gesture of studied virtuosity, lacking in depth, remains superficial and empty. This kind of casual nonchalance is often no more than a sloppy display of inability, an attempt to impress with a lot of bravado. In vain. The connoisseur sees through it right away: it’s nothing but hot air. Only a very experienced artist, who has complete mastery of his craft and technique, can afford to work loosely and casually with conviction.

I can hear you think: “Well, Kees, if learning to work more loosely isn’t possible, what are you telling me here?” Don’t be discouraged, I’ll try to help you on your way.

Have you ever noticed that in step-by-step demonstrations in books about painting techniques you often prefer the penultimate stage to the final one? A work of art is often stronger when it’s hardly more than a preliminary sketch, rather than a completely resolved rendering. Such a sketch frequently breathes a spontaneous life force, which can also be found in certain examples of handwriting and signature. You can find the same charisma in the vital expressions of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy. The Romans called it “divinus afflatus” – the divine breath. The X-factor has now been added to technical skill. It’s a talent you’re born with, but which can also be approached by the less gifted through hard work and practice.

Remember, when you start a thing, you have to want to excel at it. It’s the only way to rise above the material. Only then does effortlessness become easy – once you know how to do it.

Both maker and viewer then learn to enjoy the suggestive stains and lines which constitute the basis of “sprezzatura”, the art of nonchalance and seeming effortlessness.

Still, it’s never easy to give shape to simplicity with style.


If you’d like to learn more about the practical application of this casual way of working, I suggest you read Edo Hannema’s instructive blogs. Highly recommended.

Next time: Wabi Sabi, the beauty of imperfection.

© Kees van Aalst

Unique talent

We’re all amateurs. Life’s too short to be anything else.

Unique talent

When Hokusai, the famous Japanese artist, was eighty years old, he lamented that he was just beginning to learn his craft. Many artists who came after him were well aware that talent is limited by definition, and that the ideal will never be attained.

In the relatively short time available to us we have to find our strengths and develop them as best we can, so don’t try to equal the talent of someone you admire, but make the most of your own. You’ll have your hands full just doing that.

Every artist, no matter how gifted, only has limited talent with which to cover a small segment of his or her métier, but when a hefty dose of effort accompanies that talent, success is assured.

An example to illustrate the point. William Turner, the famous English painter, greatly admired the work of a now long forgotten artist, Philip James Loutherbourg. Turner carefully imitated Loutherbourg’s paintings. Then he wondered why he admired these works so much. He selected elements such as color, composition, and visual language, but it turned out to be the way Loutherbourg rendered light that most appealed to Turner. By highlighting a subordinate aspect of another artist’s work and dedicating himself to mastering that aspect, Turner became a great innovator.

Since everyone has a limited, but unique, talent, you should first determine which painters you admire most, and which aspect of their work it is that appeals to you.

Please disregard the figurative elements in this: that lovely sky, those imposing shadows. They have nothing to do with art. That’s the outside, the skin of art. Peel it off and what’s left, the residue, that is Art.

The figurative representation so admired by the masses is the work of ‘picturemakers’, and thus not very creative.

In the future, pay a little more attention to the abstract, stylized, and decorative elements, which can elevate your artistic tricks and techniques to the level of Art. In essence, all good visual art is abstract. As abstract as music.

From tomorrow on, look at art the way you listen to music.

Kees van Aalst

Uniek talent

We’re all amateurs. Life’s too short to be anything else


Uniek talent


De beroemde Japanse kunstenaar Hokusai verzuchtte op z’n tachtigste dat hij het vak toen pas een beetje begon te leren. Ook vele kunstenaars na hem waren zich er terdege van bewust dat een talent per definitie beperkt is en het ideaal nooit bereikt zal worden.

In de relatief korte tijd die ons ter beschikking staat moeten we onze sterke punten weten te vinden en die zo goed mogelijk ontwikkelen. Probeer dus niet het talent van iemand die je bewondert te evenaren, maar haal alles uit je eigen talent. Daar heb je je handen al vol aan.

Elke kunstenaar, hoe begenadigd ook, heeft maar een beperkt talent, waarmee hij of zij een klein segment van het metier bestrijkt. Gaat dat talent daarnaast nog vergezeld van een fikse portie inzet dan is succes verzekerd.

Een voorbeeld ter illustratie. William Turner, beroemd Engels schilder, had grote bewondering voor het werk van Philip James Louthenbourg, die inmiddels in vergetelheid is geraakt.Turner imiteerde nauwgezet het werk. Vervolgens vroeg hij zich af waaróm  hij dat werk nou zo bewonderde. Hij selecteerde de beeldende elementen zoals kleur, compositie en vormentaal. Het bleek de weergave van het licht te zijn wat hem het meest aansprak. Door het uitlichten van een ondergeschikt aspect in andermans werk  en zich hierin met volle inzet te bekwamen werd Turner een grote vernieuwer.

Omdat iedereen maar een beperkt, maar uniek, talent heeft moet je eerst nagaan welke schilders je het meest bewondert en welk aspect je nu precies in dat werk aanspreekt.

Vergeet daarbij alsjeblieft de figuratieve elementen: die mooie luchtpartijen, die imponerende schaduwen. Die hebben niets met kunst te maken. Dat is de buitenkant , de schil van kunst. Pel die schil eraf, wat overblijft, het residu, de essentie, is Kunst.

De door de massa zo bewonderde figuratie is het werk van “plaatjesmakers”, dus weinig creatief.

Dus let in het vervolg eens wat meer op de abstracte, gestileerde en decoratieve elementen, waarmee je een kunstje tot Kunst kunt verheffen. In de kern is alle goede beeldende kunst abstract. Zo abstract als muziek.

Kijk vanaf morgen naar kunst zoals je naar muziek luistert.


For English subscribers,
This article is going to be translated and will be posted soon.

Kees van Aalst

Plagiarism or theft?

Kees van Aalst
Said Hamlet to Ophelia: “I’ll draw a sketch of thee, what kind of pencil shall I use? 2B or not 2B?”

Would a charge of plagiarism by Shakespeare be successful in this case? I doubt it.

When you give a creative twist to an existing thing, such as here, the courts are often inclined to be

But literal copying is a different story, in fine art as much as in literature. Don’t do it, that’s all I need
to say.

In this ultrashort exploratory article, I’m not going to talk about successful thieves from art history
such as Warhol or Lichtenstein, nor about the forgers’ guild that is only interested in monetary gain.

Instead, I want to find out how you can draw inspiration from other people’s work without literally
copying it.


Existing images are often utilized in the art world. No one creates something from nothing. There are
always influences, but a creative artist knows how to alter that influence in such a way that it
becomes part of his or her own work virtually unnoticeably.

Picasso had a strong opinion about stealing other people’s products. “Good artists copy, great artists
steal” was his thesis. Copying is plagiarism, it’s not very creative. By stealing, you appropriate the
work and make it your own. Originality then becomes skillfully disguised imitation. After all, the point
isn’t where you get your ideas, but what you do with them.

So don’t be ashamed to use other people’s work as a source of inspiration. Collect images of work
that speaks to you, and use them as a catalyst and an incentive to improve your own work. You’ll be
more driven, more proficient in this way, resulting in work that has its own style and character.

Finally, a few tips:

● Set the bar high. For inspiration, study the works of great artists you admire, not the
dabblings of wellmeaning amateurs. Those don’t teach you anything.
● You could consider it a kind of honor when others imitate your work.