I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.
I have to cry bullish*t on this. I'm not even through the introduction and already I'm irritated; now I remember why I hated art theory at university.
There is a wholly unsubstantiated rant ahead, so skip it unless you're in the mood to read some cranky writing.
To wit: The writer of the introduction, Stefan Bollman, asserts the following about this painting (Woman Reading by Pierter Janssens Elinga):
1. The subject is a servant (I won't dispute this, I have no way of knowing and it's likely evident by her dress), but if I were betting money, I'd say she was an artist's model roped into sitting in that chair for hours for a pittance.
2. The "fruit bowl seems to have been set aside in unthinking haste and now threatens to slip at any moment from the rounded upholstery of the chair by the wall." Uh, looks pretty stable to me - doesn't even look tilted precariously - and where else, exactly, should she put it in that room? The only other surface in the painting looks like the covered top of a coffin.
3. The "cushion, which was actually intended for the chair that the reader has drawn closer to the three windows for the better light, has apparently been thrown carelessly on the floor." Says who? Did the artist tell someone that cushion was meant for that chair? How does Bollman know the girl moved that chair to the windows? How does he know she threw the cushion to the floor?
4. "The slippers, which probably belong to the mistress of the house are lying untidily in the middle of the room; in her burning wish to resume her reading as soon as possible, the servant girl has probably stumbled over them." Says who? Maybe they're hers (hand me downs from her mistress perhaps) and she kicked them off when she came into the room.
5. "Thus we gain the impression that the girl is using the absence of her mistress to indulge her passion for reading, rather than diligently pursuing her household duties, as Calvinistic ethics would have required." Who is "we" - does Bollman have a mouse in his pocket? Maybe she's at the end of her day and she's sinking down with a good book to relax before dropping into bed in exhaustion. "When the mistress is away, domestic order seems immediately to be threatened." Well, that just makes Bollman sound like a pompous ass.
But the highlight for me - the part that brought me here to do a status update when I generally don't do status updates:
"If indeed such order ever existed. For whose is the book ...that has cast such a spell over the servant girl? It probably does not belong to her but to her mistress. This adds to her other transgressions the serious one of having misappropriated the property of her employer. Even if the reader is only 'borrowing' the book, she probably has done so without asking permission."
What a WANK! From this one painting this git - sorry - this surely educated git, who undoubtedly knows more about art than I do, decides that this servant girl is a completely lazy piece of skirt that steals from her mistress as soon as her back is turned. As opposed to, say, a servant that has finished her duties for the day taking a moment to read a book given to her by her mistress? Or, and I personally like this theory best, it's JUST A PAINTING! Maybe he wasn't trying to paint a social statement about how hard it is to find good help, maybe he was just trying to paint; maybe get the composition right.
Odds are better than even that I'm wrong but honestly why does everything have to broken down like this? Monet didn't paint a political statement when he painted his waterlilies; neither did Van Gogh make a social statement with his haystacks.
Why, when art critics/scholars hear hoofbeats, they always think it's zebras? I'd love to go back in time and ask the artists of this period through to the Belle Epoque*: why did you paint this? Because I'm pretty sure they'd tell me the hooves are just horses and art is just art.
* I'm not even going to speculate about art after the Belle Epoque because I'm pretty sure artists after this period did paint with a 'greater message' in mind. Which might be why I stopped liking most art after Cassatt.