I have always been fascinated with the idea behind the Italian word, “Chiaroscuro.” There is no English equivalent. For a language to have a word that encompasses both light and dark into one unifying concept, speaks volumes about its people.
Chiaroscuro [kjaroˈskuːro]; is the Italian word for light-dark (chiaro, meaning bright, clear, and scuro, meaning dark, obscure).
In art, it is “the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition.”
As an artistic statement, chiaroscuro is much more than just “the use of bold light sources against deep shadow to define three-dimensional objects.”
Masters of this technique such as Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt used chiaroscuro to tell a complex story; a story of deep longing, or profound contemplation, or far-reaching sadness, or beguiling mystery.
When I was first introduced to the art world, I fell in love with da Vinci and Rembrandt but didn’t understand why until I attended my first art history class in college. The instructor spoke of chiaroscuro in such a passionate way that I knew, finally, why I was so taken with these two painters.
Although I am not a painter, as a photographer, I’m always on the lookout for great contrast and “depth of field.” The interplay of light and shadow carried through to a “vanishing point” (like the photographs I’ve included here), has always compelled me to pull out my camera (which, lately, means my iPhone). When the photo has a focal point, it begins to tell a story, and for me, that’s when it becomes Art.
As an author, applying the concept of chiaroscuro intrigues me. It inspires me to weave in the paradoxical nature that is inherent in the human condition. I have spent a great deal of time studying the balance of opposites. The harmony of contrast. This sacred symmetry is crucial to the experience of being human. We cannot know light without darkness, joy without sadness, beauty without ugliness, for we can never truly know a thing without its inverse.
Using chiaroscuro as one of my touchstones when writing fantasy helps me stay focused on what’s real and true, within the imaginary gauntlets that my characters must navigate, and what it takes to truly transcend human limitation.
The way I see it, we are all born with limitless potential. Then, growing up, we are taught to embrace limitation by well-meaning minds.
In an interview, I was once asked if there were any particular themes that run through all of my books. The easy answer came out: “All my main characters are elsers, misfits, people who don’t fit in, who feel they don’t belong in the world they were born into.” But the deeper answer to that question (that has emerged since that interview) is the idea that we can all be reunited with our infinite potential and to do so, I believe we must start by learning to embrace the lightness and darkness within us.
The Light Masters (from my LightBridge Legacy Series) would put it like this:
“When we learn to dance with our own inner chiaroscuro, true balance becomes possible, healing commences, and we begin to live the life we’re meant to live.”
Ciao for now,