Bob Raczka’s The Vermeer Interviews — Conversations with Seven Works of Art has be one of the coolest, most informative books I’ve read in a long time. I found a lone copy secreted away in the children’s book section of the Frick Museum here in New York. I am not a child and have no children to read to at this point, so I almost passed on it. Thankfully my love of Vermeer overcame any age-appropriate related hesitation. I realized that I was being an idiot and obviously had to buy this book. Thank goodness I did. The Vermeer Interviews is a classic and well worth reading by art lovers of any age.
The book’s premise is that the author Bob Raczka interviews the characters in seven Vermeer paintings. He interviews the geographer, the milk maid, etc. They respond with patience and humor. They tell him what they are thinking and point out some of the compositional details of their paintings. They talk about shape, light, color, tone and so many other aspects of their paintings. They also give some background on the history and culture of the times as they discuss the objects in their pictures. I particularly liked the way the interviewer kepy trying to nail down the precise meaning of each picture, only to have the subjects posit that the picture might mean any number of things and that perhaps Vermeer wanted to leave things open-ended. Best of all, the quiet feeling behind Vermeer’s luminous paintings pervades these lovely interviews.
This book provides an imaginative introduction to art history and theory. Raczka’s explanations and his gentle reminders that the viewer is free to consider multiple interpretations are very welcome and encouraging. This book could be read to a young child as a gentle yet enthusiastic way of looking at art, particularly in connection with a visit to a museum. My guess is that many elementary school readers could read it themselves. As for adults, let’s just say that it is completely enjoyable and that it has informed my thinking about these paintings far better than any dry museum description could do. I really appreciated the enthusiastic tutelage on Vermeer’s art.
Really, you need to read this book! Also, I just Googled Bob Raczka, and it appears he has written quite a number of books, and many of them are art-related. I can’t wait to read how he embraces Van Gogh!