Vermeer in Dialogue: From Appropriation to Response

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The intrinsic value of art rests in the response it conjures in its audience and the information this response can convey about the culture in which it resides. The paintings of the 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer are proving particularly relevant to our contemporary culture. The scholarly discourse on Vermeer and his paintings, the exhibition of his works, their reproduction in diverse media, and their appropriation by artists, novelists, and filmmakers have created dialogues on Vermeer that promote understanding of his meaning today. Surrounding Vermeer with the various dialogues that have surfaced in culture provides a way of understanding how meaning has been ascribed to this artist and just what this meaning is.

The degree of attention afforded to Vermeer through the exhibition forum has shifted his paintings into the full view of a broad international audience, made the artist and his paintings celebrities, and established Vermeer's aesthetic as a cultural emblem of beauty open to public response and interpretation. This thesis is argued within the context of five museum exhibitions related to Vermeer that took place between 1995-2003 and through an in-depth discussion of the appropriation of his paintings by other artists, writers, filmmakers and their critics. Critical methods from art history, visual culture studies, film studies, consumer culture studies, anthropology, and ethnography are employed to support this thesis

Appropriation is an important theme in our contemporary culture; yet, there is also an historical context through which it has evolved. Artists have engaged in appropriation throughout art history and many traditional motivations for appropriation remain presently relevant. Methods of reproduction have tremendously affected the evolution of painting since the development of the print in the 15th century and this has had impact on art appropriation. Technological developments in reproduction methods since the 19th century have accelerated the appropriation of paintings in diverse media. The reproduction of Vermeer's paintings since the 19th century and especially through the museum exhibition and its media response in recent history have made his images well-known and encouraged their use as a way of conceptualizing and contextualizing ideas of refinement, perfection, and beauty.