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

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