I recently saw a documentary called Tim’s Vermeer. It was about Tim Jenison a Texas inventor, who decides to replicate the process Vermeer used to create “The music Lesson”. He had NO prior oil painting experience. It was a very interesting film if you’re one of those people who enjoy art, art history and art process.
This is not a review of the movie, just a quick babble.
Watch the trailer in the link above then come back and finish reading.
After finishing the film, I did some reading from the critics. The first thing I noticed was their dismissive tone, I wonder if they are painters. It seems like the more proficient the painter, the less offended they get when they read that some old masters used lenses and mirrors to aid in their work.
Using optical devices isn’t cheating. I was struck by how simple his device was. Two mirrors. Back in painting class we were encouraged to hold mirrors in front of our eye to judge the accuracy of the portraits to the models. The better you are at drawing and the more you paint, the library of techniques builds in your arsenal. Having more experience, your painting will get faster and you may use different tools get the desired result. This was Jenison’s first (!!!) oil painting. Given the fact that he didn’t know what colors had what properties, how some colors are transparent and others opaque, what mediums could smooth the paint, how the shapes of the brushes matter. I think it looked great. Sure it took over a year, but if he should continue painting, his next paintings won’t take nearly that long.
I never looked down on people using optical devices, I was curious too. I consider myself a pretty good draftsmen but I was always eager to test out the mirrors and lenses. Is it such a stretch to say some of my art heroes used the same tools?
I’ve seen eight Vermeer paintings in person, one thing you see right away is the softness. It didn’t appear in arbitrary spots, they were present and consistent in certain areas. As if he were focused on one plane and defocused all around. His background has always been an interesting riddle for art history buffs. We as a society and many in the art community have a annoying habit of “God-ing-up” our heroes. To say some of your heroes used optical devices doesn’t lesson their skill. It makes them real. I guess from that time to now, it became a taboo to mention that aids were used. Art would be more appreciated if it were painted by magic and not by hard work.