The wrong things in our world are glamorous:
fast cars, tomato throwing contests, actors –
instead of the right things:
going to bed early, long walks, observing the sky at dusk, kindness…
早睡 长途徒步 欣赏黄昏时的天空以及良善
It’s not that nothing at all is glamorous,
it’s just that we need to direct our admiration and excitement more wisely
we need to turn it upon the things which genuinely deserve prestige.
Artists can help us.
One of the fundamental things art can do for us is turn the spotlight of glamour
in the best and most helpful directions.
Artists identify things that
we tend to overlook but which, ideally, we should care about deeply.
Serving women, bread, and milk were not
especially exciting in the late 1650s, when Johannes Vermeer painted this picture. [The Milkmaid, 1657-8].
She wasn’t a celebrity,he isn’t showing us somebody who was already highly admired.
Yet Vermeer saw in the serving woman pouring milk
something that he feel is of prolonged
He thought something really important was going on
By worldly standards, it’s a pretty humble situation.
But the care with which she works is moving.
Vermeer is impressed by the idea that our true needs might be really rather simple.
Bread and milk are really rather satisfying.
The light coming through the window is beautiful.
And a plain white wall can be a major source of delight.
Vermeer is redistributing glamour by raising the prestige of things he depicts.
And he’s trying to get us to feel the same way.
The milk maid is a kind of propaganda
(or advert) for homely pleasures.
Or consider the painstakingly skilful and
commercial business of lace-making [The Lacemaker, 1669-1671]:
Vermeer paints the self-employed businesswoman with the usual devotion and care
that would be given to a military hero or a great political leader.
Vermeer was his himself unremarkable in many ways.
He was born in 1632 in the small but beautiful city of Delft,
where his father was a modestly successful art dealer-cum-innkeeper.
He stayed there most of his life.
He never travelled away from Delft after his marriage at age 20.
He hardly even left his pleasant home.
He and his wife, Catharina, had 11 surviving children
and he did much of his painting from the rooms on the upper floor. (Modeled after Catharina)
Vermeer was a slow painter, partially because he was not only a painter.
He continued the family businesses of art dealing and innkeeping
and he also became head of the local guild of painters.
In contemporary terms, his career was not a huge success.
He wasn’t especially famous, and he didn’t make a lot of money.
He was in fact an exemplary member of what was,in those days,
a newly important kind of person: the middle-class individual.
Vermeer was in his teens when Holland, or technically, the seven provinces,
became an independent state – the first ‘bourgeois republic’ in the world.
In contrast to the semi-feudal aristocratic nations that surrounded it,
Holland gave honour and political power to people who were not at the pinnacle of society:
to merchants, administrators, prosperous artisans and entrepreneurs.
包括商人 行政长官 熟练技工和企业家
It was the first country in the world to be recognisably modern.
In this era, a great insight of Christianity
– one which is easily detachable from the surrounding theology –
became increasingly relevant: that everybody’s inner life is important,
even if on the outside they do not seem particularly distinguished.
Vermeer paints ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ with the same kind of consideration.
[The Girl with the Pearl Earring, 1665] She isn’t anybody famous or important
She isn’t rich.
The earring that she wears is nice, but it is a minor trinket by the eye of the fashionable world.
It is the one pricey thing she owns.
Yet she’s not in need of justice – she’s not downtrodden or badly treated.
She is (for want of a better term) ordinary.
Yet she is, like everyone, not in the least ordinary.
she is uniquely, profoundly, and mysteriously, herself.
The picture which best sums up Vermeer’s philosophy, The Little Street,
has become one of the most famous works of art in the world.
It has pride of place in Amsterdam’s great Rijksmuseum,
it is insured for perhaps half a billion euros
and is the subject of a mountain of learned articles.
Yet the painting is pointedly out of synch with its status.
Because, above all else, it wants to show us that the ordinary can be very special.
The picture says that looking after a simple but beautiful home,
cleaning the yard, watching the children, darning cloth
清扫院子 注视孩子 织补衣服
– and doing these things faithfully and without despair –
is life’s real duty.
It is an anti-heroic picture:
a weapon against false images of glamour.
It refuses to accept that true glamour depends on
amazing feats of courage or on the attainment of status.
It argues that doing the modest things, that are expected of all of us, is enough.
Vermeer did not live long.
He died in 1675, still only in his early forties.
But he had communicated a crucial – and hugely sane – idea:
much of what matters to us is not exciting, urgent, dramatic or special things.
Most of life is taken up with things that are routine, modest, humble,
and (to be honest) a touch dull.
Our culture should focus on getting us to appreciate
the average, the ordinary and the everyday.
When Vermeer painted his hometown he didn’t choose a special day,
the sky is neither very overcast nor especially sunny.
[View of Delft, 1660-1] Nothing is happening. There are no celebrities around.
Yet it is, as he has taught us to recognise,
(it is)all very special indeed.