This Vermeer painting hangs beside my desk. Above it is the Rublev Trinity icon. Vermeer and Rublev, a century or two apart, but at cultural poles; and as two of the greatest exponents of their particular art forms, they took their gift and technique to new levels in these two paintings.
Sometimes art can be devalued by too much scrutiny. If something strikes us as beautiful or meaningful, at that precise and gifted moment, analysis is quite literally, a waste of time. We are arrested by a painting, summoned from well practiced but desultory routine by an interruption which demands and receives our full attention. Questions why or how can wait as we attend to the encounter itself.
Once a painting becomes familiar, because it has been gazed upon a thousand times, glanced at or noticed thousands more, and has become a piece of the mental furniture in our personal space, there is little need for analysis. That annoyingly banal, or dismissive phrase so beloved of celebs and sales executives comes into its own as an aesthetic recognition: "It is what it is".
I've lived with the Rublev for decades, and the work of Vermeer for near twenty years. The biggest book in the house is Serena Cant's Vermeer and His World, 1632-1675. It's 45cm x 35cm x 2.5cm! It provides thoughtful, deeply informed comment of each of Vermeer's paintings. His technique, colour choice, extraordinary detail in portraying the ordinary, human interest,innovative and astonishing brushwork - all of that and much more are explained and pointed out.
From this book that requires a large coffee table to read it, I have learned much of the how, and perhaps a little of the why, of beauty, and found some kind of explanation for the 'won't take no for an answer' quality of those paintings that appeal to us, summon us, require of us a degree of attention we reserve for those people and places and objects we truly and finally love.
Art is such a personal thing, a matter of taste we reckon. Which is why there is all the difference in the world between a nice picture, and a painting that is not primarily there for decoration, but for conversation, and at some deeper levels of emotion and thought, communion. These two paintings are not there as conversation pieces, but as conversation partners, from whom I learn much and whose presence is gift in the present continuous.