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Decoro, Sprezzatura, Grazia – Balancing work and play in your artistic practice

Life lessons from 17th century musical concepts

Bear with me here.  You may not be interested in music, or history.  But this is one of the most profound concepts I’ve come across, and it applies to all the arts.  In fact, it practically defines them.


If you’ve ever learned to play an instrument, you probably had to do scales.  Endless up and down sequences of notes that drained your enthusiasm and made everyone else wish you’d taken up a different hobby as well.  Any physical art is based on gruelling hours of practice, strengthening muscles and learning moves in order to be able to perform them with ease.  If you’re a visual artist, perhaps it was learning rules of perspective, or practicing observational drawing of the most basic subjects (did you ever have to draw baked bean cans until you got your ellipses right?)  This is decoro.  It’s learning the rules, mastering the techniques, perfecting your practice in a technical sense.  As the saying goes, you have to learn the rules before you can break them.


If decoro is the work, sprezzatura is the play.  It is the freedom and inspiration, the carefree experimentation.  This is where the heart comes in, the urge to create something new and beautiful.  Without it, art is lifeless and lacks meaning.  But on its own it is naïve, impractical and limited.  The best art comes when decoro and sprezzatura work together.


This is the moment of grace.  This is when the hard work pays off, your self-expression is effortless… and if you’re really lucky, something magical happens.  You can’t force it.  You can’t plan for it.  It just flows naturally, and creates a brief moment of perfection.   It’s a gift from the universe.

Or so I’m told.


Anyway, the point is – balance in all things.  Structure and freedom.  Discipline and expression.  Art not only requires it, but demands it.

Yin and Yang


Further Reading

Garner, L, 2008. Decoro, Sprezzatura, Grazia.  In: Life Lessons: Things I Wish I’d Learned Earlier. 1st ed. London: Hay House, Inc. p191.

Lehman, B, 2000. Decoro, Sprezzatura, Grazia. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/sprezza.htm. [Accessed 20 July 2017].




written by Beth Hammond

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