Teller’s Friend Is Vermeer

Teller of Penn and Teller was on Tavis Smiley promoting his movie about a geek trying to replicate Vermeer. Teller does not come across well. He doesn’t understand art (his parents were “artists”?!), nor the context of Vermeer’s talent, nor the obsessive self-absorption of their friend who tried to “discover” Vermeer’s talent in technology. Their friend has too much time on his hands.

Vermeer came out of a context of artists with great talent who honed those talents over years. Vermeer’s sensibility, where light became a subject and the world as pearl metaphor realized, was inspired. The simplified presentation in Vermeer’s work is borne of the taste and talent of his age. Like Bach, Vermeer perfected the trends of his age. Vermeer’s work was done by his spirit and mind, not his hand and technology. To Teller Vermeer’s work “looks like a photograph”. But in reality, the many simplifications and decisions made in Vermeer’s imagery has nothing to do with the detailed approximations of reality (as perceived by the mind) in photography.

If Teller, or his friend, really think something has been discovered that leads to creating a Vermeer, well, let’s see them do it. Crude approximations of Vermeer’s genius, derived from Vermeer’s sensibility, yet claiming equivalence, could only exist in a self-absorbed pop culture. I suppose this means if Tavis steps on a basketball court, then gosh, he’s Michael Jordan. We’re all just folks. Anyone could do it. You just have to build a machine to be Vermeer, or play a lot of basketball to be Michael Jordan.

Its been theorized for years that Vermeer used a camera obscura, a device which replicates a room size camera. Of course, Degas used photos. And Sargent was influenced by them. Zorn as well. No doubt The Diner had its origin in Hopper’s exposure to photos. Even the dramatic compositions of  Eisner’s seminal comic, The Spirit, were influenced by Hitchcock-like angle shots.

The goofball leap of saying artists of old were aware and influenced by the technologies of their time, so therefore their work could have been done by anyone, requires a leap of narcissism which would be laughable in a more mature age.

Inadvertently, Smiley said it all, summarizing the impulse: “If Vermeer was a genius then that depresses me because I can’t do that”. So Teller, and a condescending, politically driven agenda of, “we are all just folks,” needs to diminish achievement to make themselves feel better. Yeah, Vermeer didn’t earn it. “Genius is toxic”, and gosh, we’re good enough and smart enough and…

Self-aggrandizing mediocrity masquerading as egalitarianism.