|Oud Kirk (Photo credit: bolinhanyc)|
I am in Amsterdam this week. I am here mostly for the art but also to see the places where the art was created. One of the reasons why I am here is that I read a book a while back called “The Art of Describing” by Svetlana Alpers. She writes about Italian painting being from a “textual” culture and Dutch painting coming from a visual culture. Italian painting is emblematic and can be read – knowledge in Dutch painting is visually recorded. It makes sense that the rise of the science of optics in the Northern Renaissance also parallels this new way of expressing their experience of the world. She also writes about the influence of maps on painting. The optics allows artists to see the world with a new, “scientific” accuracy. It allows us to measure the world in new ways. Some of these new technologies include lenses, telescopes, microscopes, and the camera obscura.
In contrast to this culture, I keep reading on writer’s blogs (ironically enough) that in order to be an artist or writer in our culture we have to avoid distractions and stay off the internet. I am glad that the Dutch artists didn’t think that they had to “unplug” in order to create art. Vermeer and Rembrandt were just as much businessmen in the hubbub of everyday life as they were artists. They worked and played with the technology of the day and were not afraid to let it inform their work.
I am a little unplugged this trip, not by choice but because the international data charges for Verizon are insanely expensive, and I am a fourth-floor walk-up, shared bath kind of traveler. Also, Google thought that I was Dutch for the last four days and translated my accounts into Dutch. I had to use Google Translate to use my email. Sometimes our technology is just too smart for its own good. Things are back to “normal.”