Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Art & Editing

As Robb and I walked through the Met last weekend, we started to get into that lovely hour-three rhythm, where you stop reading every placard and accept that you aren't going to see everything. We spent far too long looking at a medieval crossbow and breezed right by the Monets, not really feeling too enthused about all that pastel. Right about the time our legs were starting to ache and we were searching the map for anything that contains the words "wine" or "lounge," we entered a room packed with people on a guided tour, all of them snapping photos of this painting. 

I thought to myself, is that a Vermeer? Is that the Girl with the Pearl Earring? And upon closer inspection, she was painted by Vermeer and she did indeed seem to have a pearl-ish bobble hanging from her lobe. But that face...I felt like I would have remembered such a ghoulish little girl. I snapped a photo on my iPhone so I could do further research (over a glass of wine) and we got the heck out of that crowded room.

As it turns out, it was not, in fact, the celebrated Girl with a Pearl Earring painting (she's down below). But the styling is so similar, the turn of the face, and the streamers hanging from the crown of her head. I almost wonder if she was Vermeer's practice model. Was he just gearing up for the main event? Though no information seems to exist on who these girls are (except the more famous one is clearly Scarlett Johansson), I did find it interesting to learn that Vermeer did not consider these paintings to be portraits—he described them as tronies, which means expression. He wanted to capture the suggestion of a personality and highlight unusual features. The Met website calls her face haunting, and I would have to agree. I also love this: "The essential element in many of Vermeer's pictures—the viewer's curiosity about a young woman's thoughts, feelings, or character—is found here in deceptively simple form."
I like this "essential element" in Vermeer's paintings so much that I've decided to borrow it in my own art form. Last week, I finished writing a very long short story (too skinny for a novella, too fat for short fiction...will she settle on a size in time for prom?). The main character in this story is a very lost woman, though I find her beautiful. And as I read through my sister's edits on my first draft, I'm trying to keep the character's visage in mind. Her unusual features, her perplexing behavior, and ultimately (hopefully) her redemption. I hope to be subtle, yet colorful and full of light. It is my ultimate goal to engage the reader's curiosity about this woman's thoughts, feelings, or character--all in a deceptively simple form. For that reminder, I will go ahead and thank Vermeer. 

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