Good from afar or far from good? A 21st century take on viewing 17th century Dutch art.


How an ordinary person views and experiences art is an entirely subjective experience. Whether by personal bias, extrinsic information, or misconception of some sort, an individual’s viewing experience is often warped before the viewer even has the chance to examine a work. This can have an adverse effect on the viewing experience, but also has the potential to do good. The way a painting presents perspective, and the way the subsequent analysis is conveyed is crucial to the viewing experience.                        A low-key and almost subconscious form of shaping art viewing is the way the Dutch masters used perspective to change the way an individual looked at a painting.  View of Houses in Delft (Vermeer, c. 1658) brilliantly uses these alternate trajectories focused on by Brusati. Most of the motion is focused on the foreground. Then, Vermeer contrasts the dark tones of the brick with the white and the skyline, further separating the alternate trajectories with the lateral field of the fore ground. In addition, he leads the viewer to the horizon by angling the perspective using the lateral lines, like the one above the doorway, and the angled rooftops and chimneys. This alternate trajectory ultimately changes the viewing experience, and gives the painting incredible depth in conjunction with the open door effect. Vermeer also leads the eye in a more subtle display in The Love Letter. (Vermeer, c. 1669) What is initially striking is the perspective provided by the open door, allowing the viewer to peer at this upper class Dutch woman holding the love letter mentioned by the title. What I then found was that my eye was drawn to the upper left of the painting by the curvature of the doorway, along with the dark-light contrast between the immediate foreground and the rest of the painting. The doorway especially explored the alternate trajectory concept, comparable but not necessarily the same as in View of Houses in Delft. (Vermeer, c. 1658) Both of these Vermeer paintings demonstrate how important it can to lead the eye and provide perspective for the viewer. This utilization of perspective and the trajectories discussed by Brusati are essential to the viewing experience.     The perspective of the painting itself is indeed important to understanding and viewing art, but so is the analysis that comes to the fore in reaction to the painting. The analysis is essentially the way the viewer creates a narrative to understand the work. Therefore, it is not uncommon for reactions to art to appear in the form of a first-person narrative such as Berger’s. This analysis is just as important as how it is transmitted to the reader.              My classmate Jackie’s comment made me think about how individuals learn and understand topics, and how textbooks and scholarly articles are so crucial to an in-depth education in a subject such as art history. The conclusion that I came to is that her statement was true, and for my field of study, international affairs, there is plenty of reliance upon scholarly articles and data. However, to truly embrace a subject and become enamored by it, an individual has to weave together a narrative, and then invest him or herself in it. Berger’s first-person analysis made it easier for me to do this because it was not wordy, and it was accessible to me, someone who does not read that much scholarly material related to art history.                In addition, Berger addressed salient biases that often influence the production and execution of art across time and space. For example, Berger gives focus to the historical background of the painting. Berger writes, “The historical context for this discussion is the Eighty Years War between the Dutch and the Spanish. It began in 1568 and was officially terminated in 1648 when the Dutch Republic was recognized by the treaty of Münster.” (Berger, 181) The historical information helps frame the context to aid the reader in understanding what forces were influencing artists and politicians at the time. This then allows the viewer to see the works of Rembrandt and Vermeer and others in a different light than before. The context is crucial, and how it is communicated is just as important. Traditionally, scholarly articles are written within rigid and formal frameworks, perused and approved by peers and boards before being disseminated and read. The relaxed and accessible style used by Berger allowed me and others in the class to connect with the reading in a way that is arguably more effective than reading scholarly articles presented within a rigid, academic style.                    The way painters utilize perspective in a painting, along with how reflection and analysis are presented affect the viewing experience. This occurs in Brusati and Berger, but is applicable to other fields of study. Someone with a cursory understanding of the sciences or political science can benefit from a paired down version of a topic, and slowly begin to understand it more and more if it is presented in a more accessible manner.


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