Writing the Essay
A Tolerant Revolt
I love watching the news right after I wake up. My favorite part of the morning used to be watching the news as I munched on my cereal at the kitchen counter. It was full of images and information being divulged by men and women in suits with headlines flying by at lightening speed. We live in a world that moves fast. Information is immediate and anything and everything is right at our fingertips at all times. I noticed during my morning ritual that when tragic events are being reported on, more often than not the focus of the story was the result, the aftermath. Then the newscasters make the shift to what I call “the solution”, the course of action to deal with whatever has happened. But both are part of the larger “reaction”.
My mother always told me that you see a person’s true colors at their darkest hour. Our reaction is what defines us. I’m not terribly familiar with Vermeer’s work but in reading Lawrence Weschler’s Vermeer in Bosnia a thought occurred to me, Vermeer’s work was a reaction to his reality. Vermeer’s Netherlands and “all Europe was Bosnia…awash in incredibly vicious wars of religious persecution and proto-nationalist formation, wars of an at-that-time unprecedented violence and cruelty…unspeakable tortures and wholesale devastation”(Weschler 164). Yet his artwork “radiates a centeredness, a peacefulness, a serenity”(164). During Vermeer’s lifetime his country went to war three times and the horrors didn’t just happen at sea or on the battlefield, “Vermeer’s Delft suffered when some 80,000 pounds of gunpowder in the town’s arsenal accidentally exploded, killing hundreds”(164). Although most of Europe at the time was experiencing the “climax of both the Reformation and the Counter- Reformation”, Holland had a better atmosphere than most yet was still “over-run with refugees from religious conflicts elsewhere”(164). Vermeer brought light into his paintings and a feeling of otherworldly peace and grace. Weschler begins Vermeer in Bosnia by introducing us to an Italian Judge Cassese who, while at the preliminary hearings of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, “spends a little time with the Vermeer’s” to cleanse after a day of discussing some of the horrors of the world (163). Both Vermeer and Cassese use the paintings as a positive reaction to their reality. Now, Vermeer was reacting to the devastation around him and Cassese was coping with his job and turning to the paintings for escape, a chain reaction.
Vermeer was able to do something remarkable with his work; in his own way he used his paintings as a way of “inventing peace”(165). His paintings were the calm within in the storm. It’s similar to Weschler describing his college days, during which the Nixon had just invaded Cambodia. The students were of course “up in arms” and trying to figure out “what we were going to do? How were we going to respond?”(165). A visiting religious historian challenged the students to “have a little modesty in our crisis”(165). The historian went on to tell the story of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee during a storm. Jesus fell asleep and a storm brewed in the ocean. His disciples woke him up fearing for their life and he told them not to worry. The storm got worse and the disciples woke Jesus again he said ‘Peace’ and the storm subsided. The historian explained, “In times of storm, we mustn’t allow the storm to enter ourselves; rather we have to find peace inside ourselves and then breathe it out”(166). That is what Vermeer did he created his own little sanctuary of peace and then breathed it out into the world through his paintings. It was