I believe that the artworks that influence you, affect you and speak to you, also influence your hand as it works. If you have the creative impulse, works that hit you on a basic level, connect with the deepest part of you. There is something elemental about it, as if we are hot wired into a particular circuit pathway.
For me, Jan Vermeer — now the subject of a major exhibition in Amsterdam — was my earliest ‘revelation’. I exclude the works of E H Shepherd and others, whose illustrating was a childhood joy, but only later did I fully appreciate their art. More of that in later posts.
If I were to choose one of Vermeer’s works that encapsulates ‘the essence of the artist’, it would have to be ‘The Milkmaid’.
Apart from the realist approach (achieved we are told, by the use of a camera obscura), there is a compelling stillness in this painting, so that you can almost hear the milk pouring into the bowl. And yet that stillness highlights the subtle movement in the pouring liquid, which shows the life. The milkmaid’s concentration in her task becomes our concentration also, and we wait in vain for her task to be complete. The whole becomes an absorbing meditation.
If we study Vermeer’s work we know that the window is familiar from several other paintings, and therefore also the room. There is an impressive amount of detail in this simple scene, and every item is essential to provide balance and harmony, even down to the mousetrap on the floor. That harmony extends to the colour scheme of warm yellows and creams, as well as the dark blues and browns.
The picture may represent a ‘simple scene’, but it is absorbing and evocative. The elements of composition, colour and draftsmanship meld together to create a masterpiece. It is not cluttered with symbolism and detail like so many works of the period, and its simplicity is its strength.
A work of which I never tire, it brings peace and honesty, describing the basic stuff of life. To quote Robert Burns, “what wad ye wish for mair, man!”
“Treat a work of art like a prince. Let it speak to you first.”