Dutch Art and the Overlooked
Most people find something relate-able in art from the Golden Age of Dutch art. Nothing fancy, nothing overtly religious, and not much that we don’t recognize from our own lives. It is charming, ordinary and down to earth. That is not to say that the skill of the artists from this period is not extraordinary, it was. But what is possibly to most extraordinary thing is the skill of these artists to notice the beauty in the most mundane things.
‘God is in the detail’, and we shouldn’t overlook the simplest things as all we see is ’God’s creation’. This is often given as the reason for these Dutch artists to focus on elements of human life that others might have overlooked. It is also said that with the change in patrons in this young Republic, art was no longer just bought and commissioned by the church and aristocratic families, but by ordinary burghers – people like you and me. These burghers had no room for huge paintings in their moderate houses, had no interest in aristocratic lineage, and as most were Protestant: had no need for religious imagery.
So these Dutch wanted paintings that made them feel good, proud and satisfied with their lives. Reminders of what this life is all about. How we laugh, love, worry and are touched by others. And let’s be honest there are a lot of things that can do just that. Opening your curtain to a beautiful day can do this. The infectious laughter of a child can do that. But also the end of a relationship, or the death of a family member.
Interestingly this is still what Dutch artists try to describe in their works. Dutch pop songs describe making yourself a cheese sandwich (I am serious!), wondering what would have happened if you hadn’t taken that holiday, and looking at a child and remembering how you used to be. ‘Act normal, that is crazy enough’ is what your told, and this has taught me a lot. Besides the obvious: my love for Dutch art, it has taught me to focus on the overlooked, ordinary details.
Next time you are in a museum: don’t look at the label. Don’t try to understand what is happening in the painting (you might not relate to it anyway). Look for those people on the margins. Look for little natural elements like flowers or insects. Look for the brushstrokes, the colouring and the lines, and remember: you are here to relax and focus your attention on things you might have overlooked lately.