05/15/2013 02:18 pm ET

A Fresh Answer To Vermeer's Mystery

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There are two excellent ideas at the heart of art historian Benjamin Binstock's beautiful and strange new book Vermeer's Family Secrets. The first is taken from a Nietzsche quote:

"We have learned to love all things that we now love."

The second is that you can't recognize a painting for what it is just by looking at it. Getting to know, and so coming to love, a work of art, or the work of an artist, is itself hard work. Binstock compares it to bringing a distant planet into focus. It takes a lot of knowledge, and a great deal of careful attention to what others (scientists, historians, critics) have learned and thought, to be able to see what is out there.