Thursday, September 10, 2009

Now That's Dedication

We were watching Girl with a Pearl Earring about a week or so ago. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as a servant girl who falls into being the model for one of 17th Century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer's most famous paintings. It's a decent movie, but nothing special. What impacted me most was the amount of work it took for a painter of that era and earlier to ply their craft.

Most notable was the obvious, but not too often appreciated fact that early painters had to mix their own paints. There weren't commercially available art supplies like today. Early painters had to procure base pigments, made from minerals, plant materials and other sources, crush and grind them well and mix them with oil and probably other binding materials to create paint. And I would imagine that the availability of certain pigments varied from place to place, dictating to some degree the color palettes each painter had to work with. It's a creative constraint modern painters don't have to trifle with. The movie did a nice job of exposing this much less glamorous side of pre-industrial revolution painting. To be a painter then you truly had to be passionate about your craft. And you had to be good, or at least show strong promise, because the amount of work involved generally precluded gainful employment. Painters needed patrons to pay their living expenses while they worked on their art. Hobbyist painters were probably only found among the wealthy.

Imagine the parallels in other arts arenas. What if sculptors had to quarry their own stone? What if singers had to write their own music, or actors had to pen their own scripts? What if performance artists had to first invent the concepts of randomness, pointlessness and pretension?

I'm not a painter, but I would imagine that if you were you'd appreciate the fact that today the tools of your craft are readily available, leaving you free to just paint.

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