SNP’s word of the day: Chiaroscuro

Illustration by Lewis Mirrett
Illustration by Lewis Mirrett

Word: Chiaroscuro

Meaning: In art, the use of contrast―light versus shadow―to create depth in a two-dimensional work.

Usage: “We’re each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion trying to emerge into something solid, something real.” ― Libba Bray. I’ve never read anything she’s written, but I love this quote.

You should know it because: Chiaroscuro was all the buzz at Marios Schwab‘s show yesterday. He reinterpreted ’40s film noir (a cinematic era defined largely by this dramatic, angular use of light and shadow) in a sleek, juxtapositional way, layering leather with latticework and Swarovski crystals with night-black sheers. The show went over well with the sophisticated audience, but I left still thinking about chiaroscuro: a beautiful word that doesn’t as much roll off the tongue as roll around in it, tangling it up.

For an early fine-artistic example of chiaroscuro, see Rembrandt‘s Self-Portrait at Twenty-Two, in which the artist renders himself inscrutable by lighting only his cheek and neck. Another young, bent-on-mystery artist, the photographer (and personal hero of mine) Francesca Woodman made dusty, flickering use of chiaroscuro in her unforgettable work. The word is Italian, of course, and literally translates to “clarity and obscurity”: an essential binary of art and life.