Sprezzatura

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Sprezzatura

Postby jonquil » Mon Aug 10, 2015 6:35 pm

For some reason, I find the notion of sprezzatura very appealing. Here is an old example from an Anonymous poet.

Westron wind, when will thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ, if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.

Think of sprezzatura as the art of doing a difficult task so gracefully that it looks effortless. That idea is at the heart of all alchemical transformations by the way, and it is represented by the first card of the Tarot's Major Arcana -- The Juggler or Magician. I think the word sprezzatura was coined in the 1500's by Castiglione in The Book of the Courtier. For Castiglione, this grace was represented by the Court of Urbino and its signature painter was Raffaello who just happened to show this virtue in his portrait of Castiglione, lol. See it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_ ... astiglione

Later writers were also captivated by this idea, including Somerset Maugham who wrote: "A good style should show no sign of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident."

And yet the poetry that is speaking to me now shows such intricacy, complexity, and artistry that I can never read it without always being reminded of it; yet as Auden put it, the work that goes into reading it is well worth it. And once that work is done, then I can really feel the sprezzatura of it, so to speak. And, of course, it also makes the simple beauty of the example from Anonymous stand out as the epitome of simple grace of such elegance and fire that it strikes right through any mental carapace straight into the soul of souls.

So in the spirit of sprezzatura, here is what I consider a transcendent example from the poet Richard Wilbur.

MIND

Mind in its purest play is like some bat
That beats about in caverns all alone,
Contriving by a kind of senseless wit
Not to conclude against a wall of stone.

It has no need to falter or explore;
Darkly it knows what obstacles are there,
And so may weave and flitter, dip and soar
In perfect courses through the blackest air.

And has this simile a like perfection?
The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save
That in the very happiest intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby Amorphos » Mon Aug 10, 2015 8:55 pm

hi

Think of sprezzatura as the art of doing a difficult task so gracefully that it looks effortless.


imho = Taoism, the Tao [the flow/the way].

I think it flows also through the whole of tarot imho [and all religions]. Do you get/see messages in the world, ones which could be seen as innocuous but makes you think, hmm that’s a bit much that ‘it’ happened like that etc?

Don’t you find that after reading a book you can bring it all down to a few pages of succinct knowledge/wisdoms? One cannot often explain or write that down, but I think the mind is doing a neat Jedi trick, and that is also the Tao.

:)

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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby Pandora » Wed Aug 12, 2015 12:52 am

jonquil wrote:For some reason, I find the notion of sprezzatura very appealing.
Because it would make you look good in the eyes of others, and therein lies its appeal...to see yourself as superior? Real growth, real improvement, is clumsy and messy, and full of uncertainty. Always. The rest is just a show, for others, or for yourself.
Grace is not art, it is an ascribed state, intrinsic, indifferent one, like the graceful movements of a cat, who is just being what he is, without any regard what others think about it. There is no such thing as grace to a cat.
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby jonquil » Wed Aug 12, 2015 11:01 pm

Pandora wrote:
jonquil wrote:For some reason, I find the notion of sprezzatura very appealing.
Because it would make you look good in the eyes of others, and therein lies its appeal...to see yourself as superior? Real growth, real improvement, is clumsy and messy, and full of uncertainty. Always. The rest is just a show, for others, or for yourself.
Grace is not art, it is an ascribed state, intrinsic, indifferent one, like the graceful movements of a cat, who is just being what he is, without any regard what others think about it. There is no such thing as grace to a cat.


Very interesting reply in the sense that sprezzatura is a result that you can see in a work of art. I suppose it would even be possible to literally create, in a work of art, the grace inherent in a cat.

After all, sprezzatura is the flow and grace inherent in the work itself. You know it by its effect on you, the observer. However, if one were to prefer the clumsy and messy, that's also interesting in itself. Perhaps there is much in that kind of art that some find appealing, so I would say, okay fine, knock yourself out with it. There is, I'm sure, always something to be said for contrasts anyway.
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby jonquil » Wed Aug 12, 2015 11:03 pm

Amorphos wrote:hi

Think of sprezzatura as the art of doing a difficult task so gracefully that it looks effortless.


imho = Taoism, the Tao [the flow/the way].

I think it flows also through the whole of tarot imho [and all religions]. Do you get/see messages in the world, ones which could be seen as innocuous but makes you think, hmm that’s a bit much that ‘it’ happened like that etc?

Don’t you find that after reading a book you can bring it all down to a few pages of succinct knowledge/wisdoms? One cannot often explain or write that down, but I think the mind is doing a neat Jedi trick, and that is also the Tao.


Very nice connection. The idea of sprezzatura as the result of Tao, or maybe even an embodiment of Tao itself, is wonderful.
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby Amorphos » Wed Aug 12, 2015 11:11 pm

Sure, I expect both are expressions of human understanding and perceptions. Many ancient cultures had similar ideas about balance and flow, so i see it as Tao because i have some understanding of that, and others see the same thing as Sprezzatura. :)
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby Pandora » Thu Aug 13, 2015 1:01 am

jonquil wrote:After all, sprezzatura is the flow and grace inherent in the work itself. You know it by its effect on you, the observer. However, if one were to prefer the clumsy and messy, that's also interesting in itself. Perhaps there is much in that kind of art that some find appealing, so I would say, okay fine, knock yourself out with it. There is, I'm sure, always something to be said for contrasts anyway.
The first thing that came to my mind was not art but specialization, specifically, the art of "professionals". A doctor is good at what he does because he does the same thing over and over...and over again, for most part of his life. He has one set of skills which he refines with experience, but throw the said doctor into, say, long distance running, or anything else he is not familiar with, and just watch how his sprezzatura will look like. If one wants to be confined to a particular box, ok, but life has many dimensions.
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby jonquil » Thu Aug 13, 2015 2:36 am

Amorphos wrote:Sure, I expect both are expressions of human understanding and perceptions. Many ancient cultures had similar ideas about balance and flow, so i see it as Tao because i have some understanding of that, and others see the same thing as Sprezzatura.


Consider that the idea of sprezzatura came out of the Italian Renaissance courtier tradition, and it also expresses the heart of Tao which wasn't a concept available to people at that time. Also consider that this idea of perfect ease and grace is only achieved after a time of hard work and practice; and regarding art, might make the finished product look as though it were "a happy accident" but is in reality achieved only through trial and error, hard labor, and difficulty... and lots and lots of practice.

It's also interesting to notice that this idea has been part of our spiritual and artistic tradition for a very long time. For example, the Tarot has been around since the Middle Ages, and its symbology is derived from traditions much older than that. Here's something from Valentine Tomberg's letter on "The Magician," (aka the Juggler) the first card of the Major Arcana (Marseilles deck).
A young man, wearing a large hat in the form of a lemniscate (symbol of infinity), standing behind a small table on which are arranged: a yellow-painted vase; three small yellow discs; another four red discs, in two piles, each divided down the middle by a line; a red beaker with two dice; a knife withdrawn from its sheath; and lastly a yellow bag for carrying these various objects. The young man -- who is the Magician -- holds a rod in his right hand (from the standpoint of the observer) and a ball or yellow object in his left hand. He holds these two objects with perfect ease, without clasping them or showing any other sign of tension, encumbrance, haste or effort. What he does with his hands is perfect spontaneity -- it is easy play and not work. He himself does not follow the movement of his hands; his gaze is elsewhere.
[...]
The first Arcanum -- the principle underlying all the other twenty-one Major Arcana of the Tarot -- is that of the rapport of personal effort and of spiritual reality. It occupies the first place of the series because if one does not understand it ... , one would not know what to do with all the other Arcana. For it is the Magician who is called to reveal the practical method relating to all the Arcana.

And I would say that this represents the foundation for the spiritual journey of any person, including the alchemical evolution of the psyche. As he goes on to say:
Learn at first concentration without effort; transform work into play; make every yoke you have accepted easy and every burden that you carry light.


We can also see the achievement of grace in the sculptures of ancient Greece and the Renaissance Italians. It is achieved through a sense of Kairos, the moment of moments that moves outside of clock time to the knowledge that has become innate. It's the place where the opposites unite and move into form, yin and yang, pressure and release, and so on. The union of the actual and ideal that looks so subtle it is hardly noticed, while it is perceived with a "yes, that's it," while other works or performances without such grace fade into the background.
Last edited by jonquil on Thu Aug 13, 2015 5:58 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby jonquil » Thu Aug 13, 2015 2:37 am

pandora wrote:
The first thing that came to my mind was not art but specialization, specifically, the art of "professionals". A doctor is good at what he does because he does the same thing over and over...and over again, for most part of his life. He has one set of skills which he refines with experience, but throw the said doctor into, say, long distance running, or anything else he is not familiar with, and just watch how his sprezzatura will look like. If one wants to be confined to a particular box, ok, but life has many dimensions.


I'm sure that we all appreciate our polymaths as well. Life in its infinite variety is a great thing.
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby Amorphos » Thu Aug 13, 2015 11:10 pm

jonquil

Art is a way to bring perfection out of our imperfect natures. It is a bit strange how things can click together, i see that in all manner of ways, seemingly random signs and the like.

The magician to me is a hopeful card, but eventually the path of life grinds the corn to flour, we get old and the light dims. The one thing we have is creation, during that struggle if we can produce a great art or idea, then in some way it becomes eternal.

Perhaps eternity is full of art!
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby jonquil » Fri Aug 14, 2015 8:14 pm

Amorphos wrote:jonquil

Art is a way to bring perfection out of our imperfect natures. It is a bit strange how things can click together, i see that in all manner of ways, seemingly random signs and the like.

The magician to me is a hopeful card, but eventually the path of life grinds the corn to flour, we get old and the light dims. The one thing we have is creation, during that struggle if we can produce a great art or idea, then in some way it becomes eternal.

Perhaps eternity is full of art!


And art is full of eternity!

Westron Wind has also been put to music by John Taverner, here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfdGvDjoJPM

This has got me thinking also about Mozart and sprezzatura.

I also consider Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat as the epitome of sprezzatura, in such passages as these:

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
And Wilderness is Paradise enow."

"The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes - or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two - is gone."

"Oh, come with old Khayyam, aqnd leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, and Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The flower that once has blown for ever dies.


There's also a way that music and language meet in poetry that, for me, is just wonderful... and for Dana Gioia in this essay which you might appreciate, called "Poetry as Enchantment." Enjoy!

http://www.thedarkhorsemagazine.com/dan ... etrya.html
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby Amorphos » Fri Aug 14, 2015 8:53 pm

The flower that once has blown for ever dies.


Why? It’s image composes the ether [colour qualia] and has become an art object, this as if to make imprint upon the fabric of reality, stretching and forging it's way into form. If we then consider that reality = eternal, then by making imprint upon that, is not the idea [the rose] then lasting for ever? :)

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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby jonquil » Fri Aug 14, 2015 11:30 pm

Amorphos wrote:
The flower that once has blown for ever dies.


Why? It’s image composes the ether [colour qualia] and has become an art object, this as if to make imprint upon the fabric of reality, stretching and forging it's way into form. If we then consider that reality = eternal, then by making imprint upon that, is not the idea [the rose] then lasting for ever? :)


Fitzgerald's rendering of the Rubaiyat represents the quintessential expression of transience or the ultimate fate of every living thing on its way towards death. But there is eternity in every moment of dying, which in this poem shows an intoxicating and breathtaking beauty found in the epicurean pleasures of love and sex.

You can think about the "flower" in other terms such as qualia and other postmodern memes, which is perfectly fine ... but I'm not sure that is an adequate or valid language by which to measure the transcendent beauty of this poem in which every moment is a ray eternal.
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby Amorphos » Sat Aug 15, 2015 12:55 am

It just seemed that would be an eternal decay, whereas i was looking at the most salient feature of the lifespan of a flower ~ being the eternal. I think thats a correct analogy if we take that aspect in the particular. But as you point out, the whole thing together tells a different story.

Still, i don’t get the death and sex thing, i think that is also an inverted truth. The other side to that is where vitality can be found in life, the force which pushes against death/entropy reaching a pinnacle of form. Really i don’t see how death and decay provide such a force of ‘vitality’, except where the effort is of life pushing up against the inevitable ends in transience [life pushing through death]. Then there could be a life affirming duality in in that, though the author was intent on death being the producer of vitality, and this i object to as mere negativism.
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby jonquil » Mon Aug 17, 2015 4:29 pm

amorphous, I guess those are eternal questions.

For some reason, in the evolution of art and philosophy from the earliest days onward, there has been the tendency to conflate sex and death. Shakespeare is full of it too. Thomas Mann's character Settembrini speaks transcendently on nature and death. I think here you will see what the poets, including Omar Khayyam, are getting at.

The only healthy and noble and indeed, let me expressly point out, the only religious way in which to regard death is to perceive and feel it as a constituent part of life, as life's holy prerequisite, and not to separate it intellectually, to set it up in opposition to life, or, worse, to play it off against life in some disgusting fashion -- for that is indeed the antithesis of a healthy, noble, reasonable, and religious view. The ancients decorated their sarcophagi with symbols of life and procreation, some of them very obscene. For the ancients, in fact, the sacred and the obscene were very often one and the same. Those people knew how to honor death. Death is to be honored as the cradle of life, the womb of renewal. Once separated from life, it becomes grotesque, a wraith -- or even worse. For as an independent spiritual power, death is a very depraved force, whose wicked attractions are very strong and without doubt can cause the most abominable confusion of the human mind. (The Magic Mountain, p. 197)
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby Amorphos » Tue Aug 18, 2015 9:03 pm

jonq, the quote was saying the same as what I was. that is my complain ~ not so much to the poet, but a general sentiment where so many people seem to disparage love and life, by seeing them though the eyes of death.

they forget that death is not a thing. :)
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby jonquil » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:17 pm

Amorphos wrote:jonq, the quote was saying the same as what I was. that is my complain ~ not so much to the poet, but a general sentiment where so many people seem to disparage love and life, by seeing them though the eyes of death.

they forget that death is not a thing. :)


Actually, you said that you did not get the sex and death thing. That is what I was replying to.

If you get it now, great! That is what the post on Settembrini's (by way of Thomas Mann) take on death was about.
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