Monday, October 17, 2011

Chiaroscuro: A Picture of Paradox

When Wendy Reed and Jennifer Horne were editing my essay for inclusion in the upcoming anthology, Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, I found them very easy to work with. We went back and forth a few times about certain aspects of the essay, but for the most part, I felt their suggestions made my writing better. And then Wendy recommended a new title. (Titles are a big deal with me. My first published essay, four years ago, was all about naming things. And one of my posts over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find, "Call for Names," is all about the importance of naming characters in a book.)

My original title for the essay was, “Jesus Freaks, Belly Dancers and Nuns.” It was the working title for the memoir I was writing at the time, and this essay was born from a series of excerpts from several chapters of the memoir. I had been living with the title for a couple of years, so it was a bit jarring to me to consider a different one. Especially since I had (embarrassingly) not heard of the first word in the title:

“Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow.”


It’s a term used in art
, Wendy said.

I was so tempted to say, oh yes, of course, I know what that is. What a great idea. But I admitted my ignorance and proceeded to do a little research to learn what it meant. Here are some of the results I found:

“Chiaroscuro (English pronunciation: /kiˌɑːrəˈskjʊəroʊ/, Italian: [kjarosˈkuːro] "light-dark") in art is characterized by strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition.”

And its use in music, especially opera:

“Classical voice instructors describe the optimal balance of clearness and darkness in the singing voice tone as chiaroscuro: a combination of brightness and "ping" (brilliance and resonance) with warmth and depth i.e. the 'dark' colours (natural or manufactured) of the individual timbre.” Both of these quotes are from Wikipedia.

“Chiaroscuro is a method for applying value to a two-dimensional piece of artwork to create the illusion of a three-dimensional solid form. This way of working was devised during the Italian Renaissance and was used by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. In this system, if light is coming in from one predetermined direction, then light and shadow will conform to a set of rules.” (from Studio Chalkboard)

And this woman’s blog post from May,“Chiaroscuro” says:

“Chiaroscuro paints a picture of paradox, denoting the division between light and shadow.“

Clearness and darkness. A picture of paradox. Brightness and ping. Light and shadow.

I was beginning to like this word, but I kept fumbling over its pronunciation. And then I found this link that actually pronounces the word for you: “Chiaroscuro.” I kept playing it over and over and repeating the word the way my husband and I did when we were trying to learn a few Italian phrases before our trip to Italy last year. After a while, it began to feel good on my lips.

And so when my story about Jesus freaks, belly dancers and nuns comes out in Circling Faith next spring, I hope I won’t trip over the title if I get the opportunity to do any book signings or readings. But if I do, it won’t be because I didn’t try very hard to sound like the sophisticated artist that Wendy and Jennifer think I am.

1 comment:

Virginia Knowles said...

I just did a Google search on the phrase "Shimmer and Shadow" because I just wrote and posted a poem with that name. By coincidence, the word chiaroscuro is in my poem, too. You can find it here if you are interested!