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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The #Art Darters. By John von Daler

                  You may remember #Malamud's young American art student who arrives in Italy thinking that he alone has discovered a relatively obscure Italian painter called #Giotto. He wants to write a doctor's thesis that not only will make his own research famous, but also will resurrect the artist's reputation. (I think the book is called "Pictures of Fidelman.")

                I am a little like Fidelman in regard to #Vermeer. I discovered him and really just want to have him for myself. So visiting Rejksmuseum in Amsterdam presented me with a great existential disappointment: other people know about Vermeer. They have come from South Africa and Japan and Canada to see his work.
                Vermeer's pictures are small. When you want to see one up close, you stand with ten or fifteen other people who want to do the same thing. The point is to see his genius in detail, to notice the technique of his painting, to ascertain what it is that makes those small interiors so special. Since you are not alone, this scrutiny becomes well nigh impossible. I end up finding a place to sit nearby and then I observe Vermeer through the hair, profiles, gestures, and earphones of other tourists.               
                As if that were not difficult enough, I also have to deal with the Art Darters. You may have noticed them yourself. They are not trying to see the original up close. They just want a photo of it and perhaps one of the informative blurb beside the masterpiece. Like hawks hunting mice they swoop through the small crowds around a picture and with the deadly precision of that bird of prey they snap up their prize and swoop on towards their next victim.
                When I went to Venice having read a very informative article on the rugged, colorful strokes of Tintoretto, I was disappointed to ascertain that the pictures were hung on ceilings or walls so far from the viewer that they might just as well have been as flat and sheer as a blackboard. Vermeer too, through crowds and guards and glass, eluded close inspection.
                So I ended up watching the Art Darters home in on the masterpieces. Why do they do that? I was thinking. Why do they travel from Tokyo to Amsterdam to take a picture of the original Vermeer without giving the painting a second look? They could just as easily have purchased a fine reproduction or an excellent postcard for their money.
                Would it not be more reverent to honor the master with your close attention, even if you cannot get quite close enough to his work?  Or are you really making these visits just to be able to talk with your friends about the visits themselves? Like passing Cary Grant on the street and then coming home and saying, Saw Cary Grant on the street today. How was your day?


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