Etsy’s just another craft fair that’s now allowing resale.

Charm bracelet by Jennifer Jones Jewelry.
Jennifer Jones makes handmade statement jewelry from vintage brooches, pins, buttons, and the occasional Tabasco sauce bottle. Since she’s my former painting student and friend, we frequently talk shop. Recently, she’s been telling me that Etsy, the e-commerce website focusing on handmade craft items, has started allowing the resale of manufactured goods.
Maybe the New York Times can wax philosophical about the difference between ‘handmade’ and ‘mass-produced’ but we artists understand the difference. It isn’t about the tools and supplies you use; it’s about personally guiding the work through every step of the process.
Enamel flower necklace by Jennifer Jones. There is no way to mass-produce an assemblage of this nature. 
If you’ve done time on the art-fair circuit, you know that allowing manufactured goods is the kiss of death for a venue’s high-end craftsmen. It adulterates the brand, and it brings in the wrong audience—an audience which can’t distinguish the craftsmanship of a $500 piece from a mass-produced $50 copy. Nevertheless, it seems like sooner or later almost every venue succumbs to the temptation.
Freakonomics had this to say about it:
Etsy’s latest move is entirely in line with the history of handmade goods, a history that is more complicated than the simple term “handmade” implies. The artisans have run head-on into the problem that led to the Industrial Revolution: Making things by hand is slow. Really slow.
That’s kind of missing the point. We don’t live in an age where the major issue is making more stuff in less time. In fact, we are flooded in cheap goods. Right now, we Americans can’t compete in the cheap-goods market. Whether our craft is writing software or creating brilliant jewelry from castoffs, we are not selling a product but a process, one that frequently yields arrestingly good results.
Bracelet cuff made of vintage enameled pansies and some other stuff, by Jennifer Jones.
I had a designer friend with a unique and locally-popular line of clothes. She tried to scale it up, and she got lost in the vagaries of offshore manufacturing. When she was done, she had a product that would have been at home at Target—in fact, she didn’t even have that, because she was a rank amateur at the business of international sourcing. She sacrificed what she did best chasing a mirage, and her product line died completely.
Meanwhile, Jennifer keeps making these one-off items, and her market is worldwide. 

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!

A 16th century fountain after the traditional Artemis of the Ephesians, in Tivoli.
In the Book of Acts, Luke records an incident where Ephesus rioted against Paul’s preaching. It gives us a great snapshot of Roman religious practice in the first century AD:
“He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar….
The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? (Acts 19:23-41)
A first-century AD copy of the original wooden cult-figure of Artemis, now destroyed. No bow and arrows for this girl.
The rioters were not calling her “great” merely because of her position; it was part of her proper name, distinguishing her from all other deities called Diana or Artemis. 
Artemis of Ephesus most likely descends from a pre-Hellenic fertility image whose origins are obscured by time. Thus the breasts. But the Greeks were syncretic thinkers, so it’s no surprise that they rolled the heavy, fertile goddess into the lithe hunter and thought nothing of it.
Artemis of Ephesus was a big wheel in cult circles. Her temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and she was served by a whole coterie of servants, including a hereditary priestess, female slaves, eunuch priests, and young virgins. (Of passing interest is the fact that Kallimachos asserted that Ephesus was founded by Amazons, a story that might have some garbled resonance in the importance of Artemis’ cult there.)
Ephesian coin of Artemis, this time with her deer.
Luke’s account is the only written classical source for Artemis having fallen from the sky. However, “the image that fell from the sky” is a traditional appellation for Zeus’s offspring. In some cases, it might mean that the worshipped object was a meteorite, but since contemporary sources describe the lost Artemis as wooden, that seems unlikely. This figure was destroyed by flood in the eighth century AD. The images we have are copies. Perhaps their makers were among the very rioters Luke described in Acts.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

The Case of the Missing Mummies

The missing statuette of  King Tut’s sister. No, she’s not a conjoined twin; that’s a lock of hair symbolizing her youth. She is holding an offering in her hand.
By 1922, when Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings, opinion was swinging around to the idea that the treasures of Egypt were most appropriately left with Egypt herself, rather than parceled out between the British Museum, the Metropolitan, and private collectors.
The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Cairo holds the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities, including many treasures from Tutankhamen’s grave. During the 2011 revolution, many of its artifacts were damaged or stolen. A full inventory of the lost works has never been released, but among the damaged (and restored) items were two statuettes of King Tut, worked in cedar and covered in gold.
Yesterday the Telegraph reportedthat Egypt has issued an international alert reporting the theft of a statuette of King Tut’s sister, stolen during rioting in Mallawi this past summer. During the violence, looters walked off with every single portable item in the City Museum—more than a thousand objects. Of the 46 left in situ because they were just too big to move, many were vandalized. (You can view the complete list here.)
The Mallawi City Museum when looters were done with it.
More than half the items have been retrieved by Egyptian authorities. Many of the ones still missing are from nearby Tell el-Amarna, which is the site of the short-lived capitol founded by the monotheist pharaoh Akhenaten. Amarna-era artifacts fetch the best prices from collectors.
Either the Mallawi riots were orchestrated to provide cover for the thefts, or the Egyptian families which control the illegal antiquities trade were able to strike fast and capitalize on the riots as they unfolded.  After all, the tradition of tomb-robbing in Egypt is far older than the business of professional archaeology itself.
They were together for more than 4500 years, before looters broke them up… into small pieces. This fifth dynasty tomb portrait was shattered during the riots. What couldn’t be stolen was destroyed.
What little I know about Egyptology comes from reading Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mystery books. Under her real name of Barbara Mertz, the author held a PhD in Egyptology. She passed away a few months ago. This real-life mystery contains all the elements she threw into her novels. I imagine she’d have found it fascinating—and heart-breaking, at the same time.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

It’s always been all about cats

Statue of the cat goddess Bastet
Yesterday when I was looking through depictions of women in ancient Egypt, I noticed the above statue of the goddess Bastet as a domestic cat. It’s a delightful, relaxed, natural portrait of that small, furry, domesticated mammal that has been palling around with us for millennia, and it was on my mind all day.
For some reason, Bastet came to be associated with cosmetics in Egyptian cosmology (or cosmetology, for that matter). Here she is lounging on an alabaster cosmetic jar from King Tut’s tomb.
Very strict formal conventions were followed in Egyptian art, including rules about symbols representing gods or the social roles of royalty. These conventions have a way of looking stultified to us, so that when we look at Egyptian tomb portraits (with the exception of those of the Armana period), we can miss the humor and observation that is also in those portraits.
Cats lend themselves to looking regal anyway, but the jewelry is a nice touch. This is the Gayer-Anderson Cat, from about 664-332 BC.
This is less apparent in their animal portraits. One gets a real sense of a people who love and understand animals and the natural world. How much they would have enjoyed social media, with its endless stream of cat postings!

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

The mighty have fallen

Great Royal Wife, God’s Wife of Amun and Regent Ahmose-Nefertari  (1562-1495 BC)
A recent surveyby Thomson-Reuters Foundation shows Egypt to be the worst state in the Arab world for women’s rights. (It’s also the most populous state in the Arab world.) This is depressing to anyone who believes that every day, in every way, things are getting better and better. Artifacts from ancient Egypt tell us that women’s status then was remarkably high compared to today.

Great Royal Wife Nefertiti, of course  (c.1370-1330 BC). Some Egyptologists believe she had a brief run as a Pharaoh before the accession of Tutankhamun, but that is speculative. 

One sees this in ancient Egyptian religious iconography. Isis, Hathor, Sekhmet and Bastet were not mere handmaidens to the gods; they were powerful deities in their own right. Since religion was so fundamental to the Egyptians, this set the tone of their society.

Sekhmet was the warrior goddess and goddess of healing. She was represented as a lioness, here at the Ptolemaic Temple of Kom Ombo. 

Ancient Egyptian women could own land, manage their own property, and represent themselves in court. They had the right of divorce, and the right to remarry. They could serve on juries and testify in trials.

As was true of their Greco-Roman and Mesopotamian neighbors, most women worked, although upper-class women generally did not work outside the home. An ancient Egyptian, Merit-Ptah (c. 2700 BC), is the earliest woman scientist we know of; she was in fact memorialized as a “Chief Physician.”

Colossal Sphinx of Hatshepsut, Early Eighteenth Dynasty (1479-1458 BC). When a woman pharaoh was represented with a false beard, it was a sign of her authority.
Women fairly regularly made it to the top of the pharaonic hierarchy. Egyptologists are certain of many women pharaohs, including Cleopatra VII Philopator, the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt, and Hatshepsut, one of the most successful of all the pharaohs. In addition, some of the Great Royal Wives were powerful politicians, including Tiyi and Nefertiti.

The last Pharaoh, Cleopatra, with her son and eventual co-ruler, Caesarion. 
Pharaoh was responsible for interacting with the gods; he delegated this duty to his priesthood, which included both men and women. God’s Wife of Amun was the highest ranking priestess; this title was held by a daughter of the High Priest of Amun. A later position, Divine Adoratrice of Amun, facilitated the transfer of power from one pharaoh to the next. The Divine Adoratrice was responsible for Amun’s temple duties and properties, essentially putting her in control of a large chunk of the economy.
A Twenty-Second Dynasty Divine Adoratrice of Amun(c. 943-720 BC)
How do we know all this? Art, of course. The stelae, statues, paintings, furniture and papyri so laboriously created by the ancient Egyptians for use in funerary rites make them the best-understood of all ancient societies.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Giving it away for free—the journalism question

Low Bridge (Erie Canal), oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas. Go ahead, copy it, print it, and hang it on your wall. Satisfying? I doubt it. But you can contact me and buy the original, and I guarantee you it will bring you joy.
No discipline has suffered more from the internet than journalism. Its unemployment rate is higher than that of art historians, even though it was once the “something practical” that artists were told they should major in.
I worked as a stringer for a local paper in the late ‘80s. I made fifteen bucks a story back then, for which I sat through interminable board meetings. Said paper doesn’t even hire stringers any more. Evidently the water-and-sewer-line stories now gather themselves, and democracy in its most immediate form operates sub rosa.
“How do you publish photos on the internet so you don’t lose your copyright?” I was asked recently. (The writer was concerned about Facebook.) The short answer is that we give Facebook a non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any content we post. However, we don’t negate our ownership; that’s protected by law.
The same scene in a photo, more or less. Do whatever you want with it; I don’t care. Photos are a dime a dozen on the internet.
Having said that, our copyright is probably worthless, because photography itself is devalued. Today’s point-and-shoot cameras take better pictures than most trained photographers could back in the age of film. Unless you’re shooting events for a fee, are particularly gifted, or got extremely lucky and caught the Duchess of Cambridge nursing Prince George in the buff, you may as well set your privacy controls to zip and let ‘er rip. It’s difficult to protect photos on the internet, and many news sources have given up trying.
Which brings me to a curious anomaly about the internet: it’s better for painters than for photographers. No screenshot of one of my paintings will ever compare to the original. However, the character of a good painting is implied well enough in a photo that potential buyers can see what they’re getting. That means that the same qualities that make the internet so good for ripping off people’s photos make it a great platform for promoting paintings.
Oddly, one sees a similar thing in the writing disciplines as well. I can hack almost any news source, but if I want to read a novel, I go through the normal licensing channels to download it to my Kindle or—gasp—read a book printed on paper. Novelists can and do use the internet to promote their works, and we consumers willingly pay them for their intellectual property. Imagine that.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Love, death and remembrance

The Resurrection of the Soldiers, 1929, Sir Stanley Spencer (Sandham Memorial Chapel)
How Sir Stanley Spencer’s gentle, ascetic, visionary soul endured the infantry experience beggars one’s imagination. “When I left the Slade and went back to Cookham, I entered a kind of earthly paradise. Everything seemed fresh and to belong to the morning. My ideas were beginning to unfold in fine order when along comes the war and smashes everything,” he wrote. “The war changed me. I no longer have that assurance and feeling of security I had before.”
Tea at the Hospital Ward, 1932, Sir Stanley Spencer (Sandham Memorial Chapel)
Sandham Memorial Chapel was designed by Lionel Pearson and painted by Spencer as a memorial to Lieutenant Henry Willoughby Sandham and the “forgotten dead” of the First World War. (It is now run by the National Trust.)
Spencer’s paintings were inspired by his own wartime experiences. He served as an orderly with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Bristol and then in Macedonia, where he was subsequently transferred to the infantry.
Dug-Out (Stand To), 1929, Sir Stanley Spencer (Sandham Memorial Chapel)
The Sandham paintings were commissioned in 1923 and completed in 1932. They are dominated by a Resurrection in which there is no Last Judgment. In it, ordinary foot soldiers and horses return cautiously, confusedly to life, as if the horror of battle were merely a play or a bad dream—rather as the veterans of the Great War returned to their everyday lives. The details of Spencer’s imagined eternity are as homely and real as those painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder 400 years earlier. The divine is in the ordinary, as it is in Spencer’s great masterwork, The Resurrection, Cookham, which he painted concurrently with the Sandham paintings.
Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing-Station at Smol, Macedonia, September 1916, Sir Stanley Spencer (Imperial War Museum)
In both the Sandham works and his other war art, Spencer concentrated on the soldier’s everyday experiences, pointedly eschewing any sense of grandeur.  R. H. Wilenski is widely quoted as saying that “every one of the thousand memories recorded had been driven into the artist’s consciousness like a sharp-pointed nail.” But these are the nails of the Cross, the nails of a transformative suffering, not the nails of mere human experience.
The chapel is closed right now for renovation, so it will not be holding its annual Remembrance Day service this year.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Give it to me, baby… for free!

Rye’s Painters on Location is a well-run art fundraiser, one which I’m honored to participate in.
Recently, Tim Kreider wrote a screedin the New York Times about a problem every artist experiences: the endless requests for donations of work to non-profits.
Having a bit of the Blue-Haired Church Lady in my makeup, I’m pretty free and easy about this, even though I know that paintings often sell at fundraising auctions for a fraction of their value. The ones where they ask for a painting are, frankly, the easiest—I just pick something from my inventory, send it, and forget about it. The ones where I’m asked to do something are a bit harder, since time is always in short supply. At one point last summer I was juggling three such requests. It was, frankly, a bit much, especially as I looked around a crowded banquet hall and realized the caterer, the band, and the staff were all being paid, while I was doing my thing for free.
Marilyn Fairman, Brad Marshall, and yours truly painting at Rye’s Painters on Location.
These events are often pitched to artists as “career-enhancing” but in truth they are usually the exact opposite. Our work sells for a fraction of what it commands in the private market, depressing our overall sales record. Often, it’s the wrong audience anyway. I’ve seen PGA tickets go for several times their value while paintings languish at their opening bid. That’s really no surprise when the crowd at the event is a golf-watching rather than an art-buying one.
Another well-organized fundraising event: Camden Plein Air.
Despite this, there are in fact some excellent fundraising art sales out there. These treat artists like professionals and pay them a legitimate price for their work. Rye’s Painters on Location and Camden Plein Air are two such events. (It should come as no surprise that both are organized by arts professionals.)
Ask yourself:
  • Does it raise money for something I really care about? I forgive a lot when the cause is near and dear to my heart. Likewise, I bend rules like crazy for my friends;
  • Is it an art-specific auction? You can’t expect a general auction to bring out many art-lovers, so paintings never sell well at these events;
  • Are they giving a percentage of the proceeds back to the artist? It costs money to participate. If the staffer organizing the event is being paid, you should be paid too;
  • Is it juried? You want your work showcased with other work that is as good as or better than yours.

And remember: you, the artist, cannot deduct the fair-market value of that painting you donated. (I’m not an accountant; I just speak from the bitter experience of an IRS audit.)

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Embracing imperfection

Seneb with his wife Senites and their children, c. 2520 BC
A photographyesterday of Pope Francis blessing a disfigured man has gone viral on social media. The photo shows the man with his head on the Pope’s chest, his many facial tumors from neurofibromatosis clearly visible.
We live in a world where disfiguring genetic disorders or disease are not common, but that has not always been the case. One of the many miracles of modern medicine is that it masks imperfection, so most of us go through our days never being forcibly reminded of the pain others suffer.
The Leper, Rembrandt, 1631
If the record left to us through art is any indication, our ancestors were better able than we to look on imperfection without flinching.
Seneb was a high-ranking court official in Ancient Egypt. Despite his dwarfism, he was a person of great wealth, who married a high-ranking priestess with whom he had children.
Dwarves played a significant social role in the Spanish Royal Court, escorting the queen on her convent visits, riding with the king, and playing with the kiddies. Some received educations, many married, but there were also dwarves in the court who were mentally retarded, whose lives were limited to playing the buffoon. Diego Velázquez painted a number of invalids and dwarves in the Spanish royal court; they are highly sympathetic portraits, even when the subject is clearly handicapped.
Las Meninas, 1656, by Diego Velázquez
Missionary Lori Delle Nij from Guatemala yesterday related a story about a little boy who was severely burned: “I am so ugly that no one has hugged me since my accident, not even my mommy.”

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Sounds like a spiritual problem to me

A possible Matisse among the paintings exhibited at a press conference in Munich (from AFP/Getty Images via the Telegraph website).
As the entire world knows by now, a cache of 1400 Nazi-looted artworks was found in 2012 in the apartment of an elderly man in Munich.
The pensioner first came under the suspicion of customs officials on 22nd September 2010 when he was seen traveling to from Munich to Zurich and back, with large amounts of cash, in a single day.
When they conducted further inquiries they discovered that he barely existed on official records: he paid no tax, held no social security records, and had never worked.
They then searched his flat and found the piles of paintings hidden behind cans of food in a squalid apartment. (The Telegraph)

Another painting displayed at the press conference (from AFP/Getty Images via the Telegraph website).
Cornelius Gurlitt apparently also owns a derelict house in an affluent suburb of Salzburg, Austria:
The gate to the back garden yawns open and a large crack in the backward-facing outer wall has been boarded up from the inside. Only this and some rusty latticed iron bars on the windows stand to deter intruders. (The Telegraph)
Leave aside the questions of how Gurlitt’s father acquired the work, what the Nazis really thought of so-called ‘degenerate art’, and why German authorities haven’t publicly identified the work so it could be repatriated to its former owners.
Ask instead what drove this man to hoard a billion dollars of stolen art while living in a hovel. These paintings—intended to bring joy and life—instead brought imprisonment and isolation. To me, that sounds like a spiritual problem.
La Sortie de Pesage by Edgar Degas.. One of the many works stolen from the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum on St. Patrick’s Day, 1990. At an estimated loss of $500 million, it was the largest private heist of paintings ever, and included a Vermeer, several Rembrandts, a Manet, and five Degas drawings.
“Artists tend to produce art as a vain bulwark against time, a gamble on posterity; and for many of the artists whom Hitler loathed, art was an explicit attempt to prevent him from getting the last word,” wrote Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times.
This may or may not be true, and it’s worth asking why we produce art. (Myself, I don’t know.) But it’s also worth asking why clients collect art, and what that means when the acquisitional urge is perverted. Obviously Gurlitt’s soul was somehow twisted by being the recipient of these paintings, but how, exactly, did that happen?

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!