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  • We live in an age with a high regard for extraordinary livesthat is, lives that the vast majority

  • of us will never lead. Our heroes have made outsized fortunes, appeared on gigantic screens

  • and demonstrated unique virtue and talent. Their achievements are both dazzling and continuously,

  • in the background, humiliating. In the late 1650s, the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer painted

  • a picture called The Little Street. Doing so was a quiet but momentous and revolutionary

  • act, with an impact that challenges our values to this day. Johannes Vermeer - Gezicht op

  • huizen in Delft, bekend als 'Het straatje' - Google Art Project.jpg It showed nothing

  • more outwardly impressive than an ordinary street in Vermeer's home town of Delft.

  • Someone was doing a little sewing; some kids were playing on the stoop, a woman was busy

  • in the yard. It is one of the greatest paintings in the world. Up to this point, the most prestigious

  • cultural works had emphasised the merits and value of aristocratic, military and religious

  • lives, that is, of lives filled with extraordinary moments and advantages. The great epic poets,

  • Homer and Virgil, had written of heroic warriors; Renaissance artists had produced magnificent

  • visions of saints and angels. And the routines of kings, queens and aristocrats were constantly

  • celebrated and held up for admiration on the most prestigious canvases. But Johannes Vermeer

  • went in another direction. He wanted to show us what could be appealing and honourable

  • about very different sorts of activities: keeping a house tidy, sweeping the yard, babysitting,

  • sewing oras in his equally significant painting of a kitchen maidpreparing lunch.

  • Several younger Dutch contemporaries joined Vermeer's quiet revolution. One of them,

  • Pieter de Hooch, focused on almost random moments of the day, when nothing particular

  • is going on: a routine afternoon at home, coming back from the shops, perhaps with a

  • bag of vegetables. Maybe the people will be hanging out the washing later. Someone's

  • rigged up a little arbour by the back door; it could do with some mending at the weekend.

  • De Hooch was the first artist in the history of humanity to point out the charms of organising

  • a cupboard. He did one picture that depicted a rather well-off merchant's house, but

  • the thing that really interested him was the laundry basket and how the owner of the house

  • and her assistant are folding and putting away towels and bed sheets. This, de Hooch

  • seems to be telling us, is also the meaning of life, properly understood. Another of Vermeer's

  • follower, Caspar Netscher, admired people doing jobs that were often considered rather

  • boring and lowly: like lace-making, which was fiddly and not very well-paid. Netscher

  • couldn't himself alter what people earnt, but he was intent on changing how we might

  • feel about those on a modest salary. Although these artists are famoustheir works are

  • in the greatest galleries and fetch enormous prices if they come up at auctiontheir

  • tentative revolution hasn't as yet properly succeeded. Todayin modern versions of

  • epic, aristocratic, or divine artadverts and movies continually explain to us the appeal

  • of things like sports cars, tropical island holidays, fame, first-class air travel and

  • expansive limestone kitchens. The attractions are often perfectly real. But the cumulative

  • effect is to instill in us the idea that a good life is built around elements that almost

  • no one can afford. The conclusion we too easily draw is that our lives are close to worthless.

  • Vermeer, for his part, was insisting that ordinary life is heroic in its own way, because

  • ordinary-sounding things are very far from easy to manage. There is immense skill and

  • true nobility involved in bringing up a child to be reasonably independent and balanced;

  • maintaining a good-enough relationship with a partner over many years despite areas of

  • extreme difficulty; keeping a home in reasonable order; getting an early night; doing a not

  • very exciting or well-paid job responsibly and cheerfully; listening properly to another

  • person and, in general, not succumbing to madness or rage at the paradox and compromises

  • involved in being alive. Vermeer was not claiming that everything ordinary was invariably impressive.

  • He was merely directing us with grace to the idea that there are a host of things that

  • we too often ignore and that happen to be both ordinary and good. With extraordinary

  • talent, Vermeer was convincing us of an idea we should dare to hold on to in the face of

  • immense pressures to imagine that we should be living in more exalted ways: that there

  • is already much to appreciate and venerate in our lives when we learn to see them without

  • prejudice or self-hatred. If you liked this film, please subscribe to our channel and

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We live in an age with a high regard for extraordinary livesthat is, lives that the vast majority

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Why an Ordinary Life Can Be a Good Life

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    Rain posted on 2018/04/02
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