The word “Filmmaker” wouldn’t normally evoke the image of magicians Penn and Teller. And yet they made a film. And it is wonderful.
“Tim’s Veermer” is a documentary that follows Tims Jenison’s astonishing attempt to recreate “The Music Lesson” by the legendary dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.
Who is Tim Jenison? Well, Tim Jenison is not or has ever been a painter.Tim Jenison is a Texas-based inventor considered one of the main driving forces behind the video desktop revolution. In 1985 he founded the very successful NewTek, a hardware and software digital imaging company currently based in San Diego, Texas. Definitely not a painter. But he likes Vermeer. A lot.
He became interested in Vermeer’s paintings when his daughter gave him a copy of “David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge”, a book that discusses the use of technology and particularly the use of optical devices in Vermeer´s work. This possibility, that Vermeer might have been not only an artist, but a sort of inventor, a geek, as Tim himself says it, struck him into a sort of kinship that would later develop into an obsession with the dutch master.
-Paintings are documents- affirms David Hockney. For years Penn & Teller have been performing a variation of the magic act “Man In a Box” in which they very comically reveal the secret of how the trick is actually performed. Magic tricks can be documents too. And for years, Penn & Teller have been making a statement, things can be far more admirable when “magic” is removed from the equation. “Tim’s Vermeer” is far more that just the recording of an amazing achievement. It’s a celebration, a document, like Tim’s painting itself, that reduces the absurd distance between artists and technology all the while humanizing, demystifying, and maybe even redefining a big chunk of our current idea behind “the artistic genius”. By no means should Vermeer’s artistic talent be threatened by this. Discovering a very plausible – but still extremely hard- way in which he managed to achieve such enchanting paintings, based not on some magically incomprehensible god given talent, but through work, and ingenuity and perseverance and pain, is to me, far more interesting and worthy of admiration. As Penn Jillette so eloquently puts it -Unfathomable genius doesn’t mean anything- I agree.
It took Tim Jenison seven years to complete his dream of painting “The Music Lesson”. He had to invent-or maybe reinvent- optical devices, he read books, learnt dutch, learned how to make paint, became a carpenter, an upholsterer, a lens maker, a contractor, and spent nearly a year in the actual process of painting. Still some might think Tim’s attempt was blasphemous and futile; he could never paint a real Vermeer. And maybe so, but it is far easier to attribute an amazing work of art to the magically acquired genius of its author, than to acknowledge that it was achieved through sacrifice and work.We often choose “he is a genius” over “we are lazy”. And maybe that is wrong.
The word “Painter” wouldn’t normally evoke the image of Tim Jenison. And yet he made a Vermeer. And it is wonderful.