Learning new ways to see

More Work than They Bargained For (Isaac H. Evans), Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday, my friend and erstwhile student took his wife and me out to breakfast. On the way home, I asked them to swing by the North End Shipyard so I could ground myself in my next boat painting. He and I walked around the Jacob Pikeconsidering the angles from which I could paint it. Since it’s in the cradle on a marine railway, those angles are limited to where there’s actual earth on which to stand.  
His wife kept saying, “Over here, guys.” We politely ignored her; after all, she’s not a painter.
He took a call.  I walked back over to where she was standing. “See?” she asked. And I did, and how. Artists are not the only people with eyes.
Packing Oakum (Isaac H. Evans), Carol L. Douglas
I am reading the Bible with a friend who is a newer Christian. We were talking about how the Bible ignores the race questions that seem to consume us today. I referred to that soaring passage that reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
The distinction between Jew and Greek wasn’t a race thing, it was a culture thing, I said.
“Yeah,” she answered. “One god versus many gods.”
Bam! It wasn’t what I’d meant; it was far more insightful than that. It was exactly how a first-century Jew would have seen the divide.
Ready to Launch (Mercantile), Carol L. Douglas
I get lots of offers for ways to promote myself. I usually just delete them without opening. I spent this past week with Bobbi Heath and listened as she sorted through the same detritus. She pokes her head into every rabbit hole and asks herself what she might be able to do with this new tool. Before Bobbi was an artist, she had a very successful career as a software project manager. There’s a lot to learn from her.
Each time we are challenged by a new idea, we face a choice. We can ignore it, get mad, or consider it. These moments are so common that we often miss them completely. We’re completely wrapped up in our own thoughts.
But each human being is the sum of his or her experiences, education, and character, which makes the potential for new thinking almost limitless. Creativity is about synthesizing existing ideas into new patterns. It’s hard for me to shut up sometimes, but when I choose to listen instead of talk, I learn a great deal.

Why does landscape painting matter?

Courtesy Imperial War Museums, United Kingdom
“Not long after Birling Gap, the path arrives at a sweeping prospect across the downs that strikes nearly everyone as familiar whether they have ever walked this way or not.
“It is a view immortalised in a World War II poster by an artist named Frank Newbould. It shows a shepherd guiding a flock of sheep across the downs. Below, in the middle distance, is an attractive farmhouse. 
“At the top of a facing hill is the iconic Belle Tout lighthouse. The sea is just visible as a line across a distant valley. The caption says: ‘Your Britain — fight for it now.’
“I have always thought it interesting that of all the possible things worth dying for in 1939, it was the countryside that was selected. I wonder how many people would feel that way now.” (Bill Bryson, The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain)
Courtesy Imperial War Museums, United Kingdom
Frank Newbould was born in Bradford in 1887, the son of a chemist. He studied at Bradford College of Art and then at Camberwell College of Arts in London. The earliest advertisement attributed to him was for gas mantles, done at the age of 22. His work included one WW1 recruiting poster, for the RAF. His career was built mainly during the interwar years, when he designed many posters for London Transport and the Orient Line, among other clients.
He joined the War Office in 1942 as an assistant to Abram Games, OBE RDI, who was younger, more feted, more famous and more stylish. Still, it’s Newbould’s work that continues to speak to Britons down through the years. He painted eleven posters for the war effort, including the four-part series, Your Britain, Fight for it Now.
Courtesy Imperial War Museums, United Kingdom
Does landscape, as Bill Bryson wondered, still have the power to move people to great acts of courage?
The majority of Americans have never been to Manhattan, any more than the majority of Britons ever hiked the South Downs. And yet, after 9/11, a simple image of the Manhattan skyline became a galvanizing motif for our nation. It was not much more than a silhouette, really: just the square, unlovely shapes of the Twin Towers. They were reproduced everywhere and on every conceivable surface, from glossy magazines to tee-shirts on the backs of Texas teenagers who’d never been east of the Mississippi.
Newbould romanticized his image of the South Downs by adding a shepherd and his flock returning to their home farm. In the same way, the post-9/11 images of the World Trade Center were romanticized, shot at night or in the reflected glow of the New Jersey sunset. (A better sense of their looming presence can be seen in this photo essay.)
Courtesy Imperial War Museums, United Kingdom
Just as Frank Newbould was the modest assistant to the more sophisticated Abram Games, realistic landscape painting is the country bumpkin of the contemporary art world. That reflects the isolation of the cognoscenti from the affairs of the common man much more than it does the value of landscape art. Whether in real life or in our aspirations, the places we love and remember touch a deep place in our hearts. This is built into us. No amount of cultural advancement can change that.

Lies, damn lies and statistics

Niagara Falls, pastel, by Carol L. Douglas

I’ve been stopped at the border by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) before. A group of us went on pilgrimage to Toronto to see Group of Sevenpaintings. On the way back, Jennifer proved to be of special interest. She cooled her heels so we all cooled our heels.

Leaving the Bahamas, I didn’t realize the banana I’d tucked in my backpack needed to be declared. While the customs official searched my carry-on bags and ticked me off about the fines for smuggling, my other bag—the one with the dangerous contraband—sailed right through.
Just kidding. I’m a very law-abiding citizen.
Detentions at the border may not be up, but news stories about them certainly are. It’s another case of journalistic innumeracy. When people talk about “fake news,” it’s because they no longer trust what media tells them, and this is because reporters frequently don’t ask the salient questions: How good are the numbers? How biased is the source? How significant is the deviation?
Not all border crossings are swank. This is the approach to Top of the World Border Crossing between Alaska and the Yukon. You need to check the hours before you show up.
When I was twenty, I could tuck a dime into my bikini and stroll across the Rainbow Bridge. (This is a real place, BTW, and not a metaphor for pet mortality.) I’ve crossed the US-Canadian border countless times since then. My body has loosened and border security has tightened in equal measure.
But my experiences are anecdotal evidence. To make a valid argument from them, they need to be supported by fact. Since 2009, we’ve needed a passport or equivalent to cross the US-Canada border. That’s a fact that supports my impressions.
All educated people know that a coin toss always has a 50% chance of coming up tails. However, after a string of bad tosses, our guts tell us that our luck has to change soon, that it’s time for the coin to fall our way.
It’s the job of our civilized, reasonable, educated minds to remind our unruly hearts that probability is immutable. However, casino gambling is a $70 billion/year industry in America. That’s a sign that we don’t do a very good job of thinking rationally.
Bahamians are tea-drinkers. My first cup of real coffee in a week, in suburban Boston.
At times, our lack of factual literacy has public-policy repercussions. For example, in 1996, we passed the Church Arson Prevention Act and created the National Church Arson Task Force in response to a wave of black church fires. But as Michael Fumento said at the time, this was a false crisis based on bad data supplied by an advocacy group.
As sentient citizens, we have a moral duty to seek truth. No tools are unbiased, so use some from either side. Better yet, use them from the other side, a trick a lobbyist friend once suggested to me. On the left, there is FiveThirtyEight, on the right, the Heritage Foundation. Read them both, and everything in between. Or, at least read something, and do it with a skeptical mind.