Thursday, August 4, 2011

Italian Lesson: Sprezzatura

   Okay, I'll admit it. I watch The Bachelor/The Bachelorette reality show on TV. And I consider it to be a very guilty pleasure, because it usually has so little redeeming value. (Other than the hilarity that ensues every Monday night as I enjoy it with John, Michele, Maureen and a stack of Spin! pizzas. We're very, very good at making fun of it.)
   But this last season surprised me a little bit; there was a male contestant, Ames, who maybe wasn't the best-looking (our nickname for him was "Superface" for his weirdly chiseled superhero features). But Ames had to be the most genuine, smartest, and sweetest man ever on the show. And in one of the final episodes he mentioned the Italian principle of romance called "sprezzatura." I'd never heard of it, so it intrigued me enough to look it up.
   Sprezzatura (Italian pronunciation: [sprettsaˈtura]) is an Italian word originating from Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, where it is defined by the author as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” It is the ability of the courtier to display “an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them.” Sprezzatura has also been described “as a form of defensive irony: the ability to disguise what one really desires, feels, thinks, and means or intends behind a mask of apparent reticence and nonchalance.” The word has entered the English language; the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "studied carelessness."
   So it actually can be applied more broadly than romance, and Wiki goes on to say that sprezzatura is a necessary component for glamour. There are both positive and negative connotations to the term. I'm guessing that most films, songs, books, whatever that we are most drawn to, is due to the artists' mastery that allows us to be completely drawn into them to a point where the work feels natural and effortless, when in fact if you are aware of that and dissect them, you see endless evidence that most everything was intentionally and skillfully executed.
   I believe that I've been successful in achieving this principle (at least some of the time) in my drawings. When inspiration strikes me, I can usually sketch out something fairly quickly and without appearing to have expended much effort. If anything, all I give away for spectators is a grin on my face as I set to work, particularly if they're the unwitting subject and I'm about to zing them.
   Over the years I've been reasonably adept at channeling this same easy demeanor in my day job and have been commended for it. I can handle many projects and a ton of ambiguity without appearing flustered, and use that to help keep my coworkers calm (humor helps diffuse this as well).  Lately, the speed, complexity, heartache, and frustration have been building and I've lost my sprezzatura. My team talked to me about it—and thank goodness they did! So that's my new mantra. Italian is fun. Maybe I should learn some more of it...