Sunday, September 2, 2012

DIA: Trials and Triumphs

This past August 7 the people of the three counties that make up the Detroit Metro  passed a special millage to support the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA was in  part supported by state funds which, in this era of tax-cutting, had gradually eroded. Support for the millage had an interesting pattern. The relatively poor (67% in favor) and the rich (64% for) supported it strongly, the middle weakly (50.5% in favor)—thus Wayne County (median family income of $49,176), Oakland County ($61,907), and Macomb ($52,102); the values are from the 2000 Census. In any case, all counties passed it, and therefore the future of the DIA is now more secure.

Ever since we got to know the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art (as it is called today) as newly-arrived immigrants in Kansas City, we have been supporters of museums, hence this election had real meaning. Much is eroding in the culture, but there is a bedrock underneath—and such collective outcomes tend to confirm it.

Yesterday—thanks to John and Monique, who energize this aging couple and take us out to see the greater world—we went to see the latest exhibits at the DIA. The centerpiece of it was “Woman Holding a Balance” by the Dutchman Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). I am showing it with thanks to Wikipedia (link). It is quite small, 14 by 16.5 inches, but bathed in Nordic light—which the painters of that region seemingly discovered in the seventeenth century.

I began taking a serious interest in art while a young man in the Army in Europe, and I subscribed then to book-of-the-month series published by Time-Life Books; that series was later transformed into the Time-Life Library of Art—but in my day monthly books featured lesser-known figures as well, like Jan van Eyck, (1395-1441). The first picture I studied, in fact, was that Flemish painter’s portrait of the Arnolfini couple (link—Monique and John, notice the little dog!). My second volume was Vermeer. So I started in the place and time where yesterday’s masterwork originated. Alas, those books are gone now. I’ve gradually given them all away. But it was a wonderfully rich experience to study these marvelous works in leisure—and then to travel to museums on vacations to see them. Praise the museums. In this realm that sometimes demands the grubby business of passing millage rates. Trials produce triumphs. But has it ever been different? Amazing what humanity can do against the odds.


  1. Interesting. The light was definitely better in person than in the reproduction above. That painting really glowed from within.

  2. And the dogs...ah, those loyal dogs.


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