The Bible is notorious for its lack of description when it comes to celestial beings. The Archangel Michael appears to Daniel and all the prophet can say is that Michael looked like a man. The angelic form also differs depending on context. Mostly, though, angels are spirit beings. You, the artist, have a lot of latitude in drawing them.
Still, we all ‘know’ what angels look like: they are infinitely sweet, sing in choirs, have wings and ringlets and wear white robes.
Wing of a European Roller, watercolor on vellum, 1510-12, Albrecht Dürer, courtesy of the Albertina, Vienna
The gap between the Biblical text and tradition has bedeviled artists through history. For example, who says that angels have to have bird wings? I’m not the first person to note this. Jan van Eyck gave the Archangel Gabriel fabulously iridescent wings in the Ghent Altarpiece, just like a bug. William Blake, that old curmudgeon, gave the angel of Revelation no wings at all.
Dead bluebird, watercolor on vellum, 1510-12, Albrecht /Dürer, courtesy of the Albertina, Vienna
If you try this at home, a turkey or chicken won’t do. The modern grocery store versions have had the flight bred out of them. A bird’s shoulders—or scapula—are actually part of its wings. In the wild, they’re strong and muscular. After all, most birdlife revolves around flight. If angels are to fly, their wings must be part of their structure, not just pinned on as in a Christmas play.
The Expulsion from Paradise, 1510, woodcut, Albrecht Dürer. He’d studied wings enough to know how the different coverts, or sets of feathers, move.
Human shoulders are adapted for operating our arms and hands. Winged angels must have two sets of scapula and the muscles to operate both. That’s hard to imply in a painting, but the best ones have the wings operating in parallel with the shoulders.
For most of art history, angels were depicted wearing the luxurious robes of the high princes of their day. The Renaissance artist often didn’t give a lot of consideration to tailoring wing-sleeves into these gowns. Sometimes they look as if the wings are sprouting from the drapery. Leonardo da Vinci (as usual) had an ingenious solution in his Annunciation. The archangel Gabriel wears feathers around the base of his wing that echo the poufs of his sleeve. Tres chic!
The Annunciation, 1474, Leonardo da Vinci, courtesy the Uffizi Gallery
Angels were depicted in togas—the garb of ancient, pagan Rome—in the fifth century mosaic cycle of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. I particularly like the contrast with the hipsters in their modern dress at the bottom.
Angels in togas from the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome.
If you extend that to modern life, you’ll dress your angels in jeans and a t-shirt. These, however, can be unsatisfying to draw. Here is a quick lesson on drapery if you want to be traditional.
Halos were used in the iconography of many ancient people, including the Romans. Halos were adopted by early Christian artists to indicate that here was something worthy of veneration. The new naturalism of the Renaissance pretty much did away with them. If you want to add one to your angel, make sure you get your ellipse right by following the instructions here.
Song of the Angels, 1881, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, courtesy of the Getty Center.
By the time William-Adolphe Bouguereau painted Song of the Angels in 1881, angels had been sanitized and softened, undergoing a gender transition in the process.
Historically, angels were depicted as male and terrifying. However, the paucity of description in Scripture allowed artists wide latitude. With the Enlightenment, angels became less frightening. This is when they began to transition into females in popular culture. (A classic case of a profession letting women in after its power has diminished.)
Worse, they started showing up as infants, in the form of putti.
Eastern Orthodox icon of a tetramorph cherub, depicting four essences in one being. Is there anything cute about this?
Putti were originally meant to symbolize the profane passions of the pagan Romans. That’s why Cupid is frequently depicted as a winged boy. In the Baroque period, however, putti came to represent the omnipresence of God. Weirder, they became conflated with the Biblical cherubim. How cherubim—the fierce, serious beings that guarded the Garden of Eden—became fat little boys is one of the enduring mysteries of art.
This post first appeared last Christmas. I solemnly promise that my vacation ends after the new year, and I’ll be back with more art instruction, art history, and art criticism. Happy New Year, one and all!
To paint trees, you have to know trees. That doesn’t mean you need to memorize species, but you do need to be able to see the differences.
Along the Ottawa River, by Carol L. Douglas. You don’t need to be able to identify species at 200 paces, but you do need to be able to recognize how trees differ.
Trees, clouds and rocks are all frequently abused in the same way: the oblivious painter never thinks about their individual characteristics but paints them interchangeably. That’s a mistake.
There is a major division in the forest world between conifers (the trees with needles) and broadleaf trees. Most, but not all, conifers are evergreens; the biggest exception being the larches (tamaracks), which turn a delicious yellow-gold in autumn. Which are dominant in your landscape? Even in the Pine Tree State, the distribution of conifers to deciduous trees is about 50/50.
Old Bones, by Carol L. Douglas
For broadleaf trees, the most important distinguishing characteristic is the branching pattern of the tree, which defines the shape of its canopy. Silver maples are large trees with open, vase-like canopies. Oaks have large spreading crowns; beeches have similar crowns that appear to have melted. Most broadleaf trees branch alternately but maple, ash, dogwood and horse chestnut branch in opposite pairs.
Pines have fewer branches than spruces or firs, and their branches grow in circular whorls on the trunk. As they age, they develop an open, jagged canopy. Spruce branches grow in an upturned direction; as youngsters, they look the most like ‘Christmas trees’. In their dotage, they turn a fine, weathered figure to the wind. Firs have wide lower branches and a downcast mien. Notably, their cones point upward.
Most scenes will include a variety of canopy shapes.
(Something that puzzles me: why do people find ancient trees more beautiful than their offspring, but prefer looking at young people over the elderly?)
Conifers are most easily identified by their needles. Pine needles grow in clusters of two, (red pines), three (yellow pines), or five (white pines), held onto the stem with a tiny papery wrapper. Spruce needles are short, stiff and grow individually from twigs. Fir needles are soft and flat. Cedars have flat, scale-like leaves and stringy bark. Junipers (including, confusingly, the Eastern Red Cedar) have berrylike, bluish cones on the tips of their shoots.
Along Kiwassa Lake, by Carol L. Douglas
Many people can identify the common broadleaf trees by their leaves, and I’ve included a chart to help you. The important part for the painter, however, is to see the differences in color. Silver maples have a lovely grey-silver color. Sycamores are garbed in military-fatigue green. Black spruces are dark while Eastern White Pines are fair and soft in their coloring.
Too often, we painters ignore young trees, something I tried to rectify (with varying success) last season. Young trees often look radically different from their aged ancestors, but they have a beauty of their own.
To be a convincing painter, you don’t need to memorize the species of trees, but you do need to learn to distinguish between them. Any plausible landscape will contain a variety of them, with different bark, branch structures, and leaf colors.
We’re in control of where we’re going and what we’re doing. To ignore that is self-inflicted slavery.
Float, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvas. Available.
For the last several weeks, I’ve had my gallery-studio open every weekday from noon to five. That might not seem like a challenge, but old habits die hard. Noon comes, and I realize I’ve missed the opportunity to walk to the post office, or run to Home Depot, or any of the other errands I used to do when the spirit moved me. If I want to paint en plein air, I must finish before noon. Since daylight is short right now and the air is cold early in the day, that’s difficult.
Being open requires that I keep things looking beautiful. No more carrying in a stack of paintings and dumping it on the nearest flat surface. Everything goes in its place when I finish for the evening. It’s nice to walk into a beautiful space each morning, but it’s a lot of work to maintain. I have a new admiration for Sue Baines, who’s been running the Kelpie Gallery as a workspace-gallery all year.
Blueberry barrens #1, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvas. Available.
Of course, once I put out my Open sign and turn on the lights, I go on with my workday as usual. My gallery-studio is attached to our house. It’s a lot different for someone who has to travel to open, or worse, pay someone to run their gallery. In the latter case it’s just not feasible to be open during the off-season.
Other than the locals, nobody is around in mid-coast Maine right now. A few people will be back for Christmas week, and after that it will be absolutely dead until Spring. So as of today, I’m done with this experiment. I have some painting and trim work to do, which will involve making a big mess. It has to be finished before my next classes start on January 7.
Blueberry barrens #2, by Carol L. Douglas. Watercolor on Yupo. Available.
In some ways, being open has been a spiritual metaphor for me. I know the chances of anyone stopping by the week before Christmas are slim, but if I’m not open, then the chances are nil.
Likewise, if you’re not open to the possibility of good things happening in life, you can’t receive them. Most of the best things that have happened in my life haven’t been by design, but by happy accident. Conversely, my worst mistakes have been repudiating things I didn’t expect because they weren’t what I thought I wanted at the moment.
My friend Barb recently asked me if I’d read The Chronicles of Narnia. Of course; I read them to my kids. She drew my attention to The Last Battle. In the end, the Dwarfs perceive themselves to be locked in a dirty stable, when, in fact, they are dwelling in Paradise. Without faith, even Aslan can’t help them.
Glade, by Carol L. Douglas. Watercolor on Yupo, courtesy private collection.
Sadly, I talk to people every day who think like that. There are people who have been given freedom but see it only as loss. There are those who hate their surroundings or loathe their jobs but can’t move on. Their imprisonment is largely in their minds. There is change available to almost all of us, even if it’s only in the form of insisting that your chair in the nursing home be by the window so you can watch the birds.
I realize there are seasons of crisis, when major change is impossible. All of us have been or will be there at some point in life, sadly. But during the vast majority of our time on earth, we’re in control of where we’re going and what we’re doing. To ignore that is self-inflicted slavery. The greatest gift we give ourselves is a window for opportunity. In other words, we must be open for business.
To be a successful artist, you have to catch the currents, not be driven by them.
Downdraft snow in the Pecos, by Carol L. Douglas
I still plan to travel, but the guts of my summer work moving forward will not be plein air events. Rather, I’m going to capitalize on my location and run a gallery from my studio. It’s a great location. If you’re in the art mecca of Rockland, ME and you want to head up the coast to Camden, you travel right past me.
Bobbi Heath taught me that it’s wise to know where my revenue comes from—paintings vs. teaching, for example. That helps the small businesswoman make smarter decisions about where to put her effort. Of course, there are limits to how you should deploy this information. It’s easier to grow a teaching practice than to sell more paintings, but that doesn’t mean the painter should stop painting. We’re self-employed so we have the freedom to be self-directed. That means catching currents, not being driven by them.
Parrsboro dawn, by Carol L. Douglas
It didn’t take an analyst to see what’s been staring me in the face for the past several seasons, a reality I didn’t want to face. My revenues from overall painting sales are up. At the same time, my revenues from plein air events are down.
I like doing these events, and I have great loyalty to the communities and organizers, but it no longer pays to constantly hare off over the horizon. To understand what had changed, I asked myself if I was doing something wrong, or had the market itself changed?
The answer is yes to both. My price point has risen over the years (a good thing). At the same time, these events have been flooded with new artists (good for the art world as a whole). I’m finding myself in the position of an established brand being undercut by start-ups. I can respond by cutting prices or by defending my brand. I’d rather do the latter.
Beach erosion, by Carol L. Douglas
To check my own experiences against those of my peers, I collected anecdotal information from fellow painters all summer. (You should see my bar tab.) Many, although not all, have experienced the same thing. The air seems to be out of many of the events that have long been the staple of our summer income.
Nobody collects hard data about plein air festivals. But anecdotal information is famously unreliable. If you’ve done a lot of festival events, you know that while five artists are sitting on their hands, the sixth is selling out. And artists don’t like talking about sales. It’s impossible to get a big picture of what’s happening.
Tricky Mary in a Pea-Soup Fog, by Carol L. Douglas
Last week, I corresponded with the founder of an event I’ve done since its inception. “One third of our artists sold no art this year,” he wrote. “That’s unacceptable.” They’re suspending their program for 2020 and reconsidering it for the future.
“Hey, life ebbs and flows,” Bruce McMillan commented. The plein air movement has been an astonishing force over the past thirty years. I’m fortunate to have played in it for twenty. And none of this means I will stop painting outside, or even totally stop doing plein airevents; it is just a sign that it’s time to widen my net. What does it mean for you?
She asked me to draw a simple tree. How hard could that be?
Velvet-flocked deer with double rainbow, by Carol L. Douglas. Behind the birch tree are marcescent leaves of a young red oak.
Marcescence is the retention of dead leaves in trees over the winter. It’s natural in oaks, beeches and hornbeams, especially in young trees. Leaves drop as Spring approaches. Susurrationis a very quiet whispering sound, such as made by those same oak leaves on a winter’s day. It’s a beautiful wintertime experience.
The oak outside my student’s office window.
One of my summer workshop participants spends her lunch hour drawing (hooray). Last week she asked me to help her figure out how to draw the oak tree outside her window. “Send me a photo,” I answered.
Leaves are generally drawn in masses, but the problem with midwinter oaks is that, like me, they are slowly losing their hair. There aren’t thick masses of dark leaves, but individual leaves etched against the winter sky. At least there are when you’re up close, but she isn’t. Short of getting her employer to move the tree, she was stuck drawing it from a middle distance, where it was a neat, plump form. Plus, Rochester has been very snowy, so there was no enlivening light.
Still, I tell my students they can make a drawing out of anything. I set to with a technical demonstration:
Figure out the branch structure.
Sketch the leaves as loose masses
Leaves and branches as loose masses.
Using your eraser, define and highlight various sections to make the drawing more interesting.
Sometimes I think I erase more than I draw.
The white space redefined with an eraser.
Add outlines that suggest the leaf shape.
A little top-drawing to define the leaf shape, and I removed that ungainly lower branch, which was really the most interesting thing about the tree.
That’s how I normally draw, but this time I hated the result. It was flat and uninteresting.
My former house with the neighbor’s oak tree. Photo courtesy of Mary Brzustowicz.
I used to have an oak at the end of my driveway, so I asked my dear friend Mary to take a photo for me. I know it’s an elegant tree, because I’ve painted those branches many times. Alas, it was another overcast day, and that oak was equally drab.
So, I set to with my imagination. I know what oak leaves look like, more or less. I know what snow looks like. I drew an oak branch and put snow on it. And then I built a branch-cluttered backdrop. It was stillboring. I finally added a small Santa, because I could.
Oak leaves with Santa.
“Boy, is that cluttered,” said Sandy Quang, who’d stopped by the house to get her mail.
Of course, there were two different objectives here. My student just wanted to know how to do it. The answer is outlined above, even if the demonstration is poor. Sorry, Diane. I wanted to make a drawing that amused and interested me. The lesson, I guess, is that even experienced draftsmen occasionally come a cropper. Don’t let it get inside your head when it happens, and you’ll be fine.
We think we know the history of art, and then something comes along to upset that narrative. For example, it’s long been accepted that the first figurative art (which means art that retains references to the real world) was made in Europe. Recent re-dating of cave art in Sulawesi, Indonesia has set that theory on its head—at least until something else is discovered.
Prehistoric cave art and megaliths in Sulawesi are not news. What’s changed is how old we think they are, based on more recent uranium-series dating. You can find the methodology here. However, what interests me is the shift in how young scientists see ancient man.
Too often, pop anthropology involves discussions of ancient man’s credulousness. In the 20th century, scientists seemed to buy wholly into the idea that intelligence is a modern trait; our lowbrow ancestors had no higher end thinking, except that they walked closely with the Otherworld.
Lion-man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel is a prehistoric ivory sculpture discovered in a German cave in 1939. It’s about 40,000 years old. Photo courtesy of Dagmar Hollmann
All unexplained prehistoric behavior was thrown into the black hole of spiritualism. Once, a park ranger in Mesa Verde carefully explained that regularly-spaced drilled holes in the rock were religious in significance. My husband whispered to me that they looked like footings for a now-missing superstructure. Since they were in front of a cliff dwelling, that seemed clear, but when I suggested it, the expert brushed the idea away. In his mind, the ancestral Puebloans were incapable of that kind of engineering.
This NPR story does a good job of balancing that. “I think the overall theme here really is that we’ve vastly underestimated the capacity of our ancestors,” said Australian paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger.
Researchers Adam Brummet alrecognize that the important part of their discovery has to do with ancient man’s abilities “for inventing, telling and consuming stories.” Because prehistoric man didn’t have written language, the best place to see their creative life is in narrative cave art. When we recognize the interactions between the characters in these paintings, we are reading their thoughts.
Photostitched panorama showing a therianthrope hunting, from Leang Bulu’ Sipong in Indonesia. Photo courtesy F3News
Along with recognizable figures and obvious abstractions (dot, swirls, etc.) paleolithic cave art contains figures that anthropologists call therianthropes. We lay-people are more likely to call them shape-shifters. They are a clue to just how complex and intelligent prehistoric man was.
Therianthropes “arguably communicated narrative fiction of some kind,” wrote Brumm. The previous oldest-known example is from Germany, a figurine of a human with a feline head. It’s about 40,000 years old.
The limestone cave of Leang Bulu’ Sipong in Sulawesi portrays several of these shapeshifters hunting wild pigs and dwarf bovids. These are about 4,000 years older—hence the excitement. Because there are no humans doing the hunting, it’s a tantalizing version of early human fiction—one we don’t have the key to read.
Unsurprisingly, the paintings are deteriorating at a rapid rate. Merrit Kennedy projects another modern shibboleth when she suggests the culprit is climate change. The cave art at Lascaux degenerated rapidly after its discovery in 1940. Human visitation meant humidity changes, increased carbon dioxide levels, and rises in temperature from artificial lighting. These triggered infestations of a variety of molds, fungi, and bacteria, which eat into the limestone and required enormous intervention to ‘cure.’ The caves were closed to the public in 1963. And Lascaux is in the temperate Dordogne, whereas Sulawesi is an equatorial jungle-covered volcanic island.
A special thanks to Sandy Sibley for bringing this story to my attention.
Our sleep cycle was destroyed by gas lighting and factory night-shifts. How do we get it back?
Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night, c. 1782, Joseph Wright of Derby, courtesy Wikiart.
As we close in on the winter solstice, dusk falls at a little after 3 PM here. My ancestors would have crawled into bed early and slept long. Instead, I click on the lights and continue to work or play with my phone until 10 PM.
Looking out my nephew’s bedroom window on Thanksgiving night, I noticed that it wasn’t truly dark. The sky was a lovely phthalo blue, with a band of light at the horizon. That was Washington, DC, 65 miles away.
Meanwhile, we suffer an international epidemic of insomnia. How did we get here, and how do we get back? According to the World Health Organization, two-thirds of adults in developed nations aren’t getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night. There has been a global rise in sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. In Japan, the average time spent asleep is just 6 hours and 22 minutes. It isn’t much better here, where we average 6.8 hours of sleep a night—down significantly over the last century. Since sleep deprivation is linked to a host of diseases from cancer to obesity to heart attacks to cognitive difficulties, that’s a very bad trend.
Joseph Wright of Derby was a painter of the early Industrial Revolution. He loved nocturnes and dramatic candlelit scenes, and he’s been called “the first professional painter to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution.” Wright also painted one of the first visual records of round-the-clock manufacturing with Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night, above. Sir Richard Arkwright, the owner, was Wright’s friend and patron.
Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Day, date unknown, Joseph Wright of Derby, courtesy Derby Museum and Art Gallery
Arkwright is credited with developing the modern factory system, combining a power source, machinery, semi-skilled labor and cotton fiber to create mass-produced yarn. He started life as the son of a tailor. Unable to go to school, Arkwright learned to read and write from a cousin. He was apprenticed and then set up shop as a barber and wigmaker in the early 1760s. There he invented a waterproof dye for the trendy periwigs of the time. The income from this would fund his industrial expansion.
Arkwright helped develop carding and spinning machinery (the next phase after the early spinning jenny), but it was his development of 24-hour factory mills that made him rich.
Willersley Castle, date unknown, by Joseph Wright of Derby, courtesy Derby Museum and Art Gallery. This is the home that Sir William Arkwright built on his manufacturing success.
As his mills expanded, it became apparent that the local community couldn’t provide enough labor. Arkwright brought in workers and built them cottages and a public house. Work was organized in two 13-hour shifts per day. The factory gates closed precisely an hour after the first bell was rung. Latecomers were shut out and lost a day’s wages. Whole families were employed, including children as young as seven. Employees received a week’s vacation a year, provided that they didn’t leave town. Arkwright made a fortune and received a knighthood for developing this system, which, ironically, destroyed the same social fluidity that enabled him to escape poverty.
The Bridge Nocturne aka Nocturne Queensboro Bridge, 1910, J. Alden Weir, courtesy Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It’s beautiful, but is it healthy?
The Industrial Revolution was the root of our modern insomnia, claims Jonathan Crary in 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Before then, the midnight oil (literally) was an indulgence of the upper classes. Then came gaslight and Mr. Arkwright’s 24-hour mill, and out went regular sleep.
Like many American families, we’ve invited the 24-hour mill into our cottage. There is a bank of monitors in my husband’s office, because he’s a telecommuter. He’s often there at 10 PM finishing up work.
Winter, Midnight, 1894, Childe Hassam, courtesy Columbus Museum of Art
It’s not just work that murders sleep. Netflix’ CEO Reed Hastings famously said that sleep is the company’s biggest competitor. “You know, think about it, when you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night.
“We’re competing with sleep, on the margin. And so, it’s a very large pool of time.”
I rapidly gained a hundred pounds after my first cancer in 1999. It’s taken me this long to get serious about getting rid of it. As I reach my halfway goal, I realize that much of the discipline of losing weight is the same as the discipline of learning to paint and draw.
Peppers, by Carol L. Douglas
Being self-taught has its limits
After each of my pregnancies, I used Weight Watchers and exercise and bounced back. That didn’t work with my post-cancer weight. I tried many diets without success. The only solution the medical establishment offered was bariatric surgery. I’d seen too many mixed results to consider it.
I switched PCPs, and my new nurse-practitioner had a different idea. “Try this,” he said, and handed me a book. I’d have dismissed the plan as unsound had it not come from a medical professional.
When I first took classes at the Art Students League, Cornelia Foss looked at my work and said, “If it were 1950, I’d say ‘brava,’ but it’s not.” I’d still be painting derivatively today if it weren’t for her. Sometimes, a trained guide is necessary.
Dish of butter, by Carol L. Douglas
It takes longer than you ever believed possible
My weight loss seemed fast in the beginning. Now, it’s much slower, but it is still there. The same thing happens when you start to paint. Many people quit dieting when it gets tough, and they quit painting then, too. The secret of success is to maintain your discipline through these parched times, because that’s when you’re making real improvement. If it’s going to be meaningful, change is incremental.
Weight Watchers works for millions of people because it registers these incremental changes and encourages you through them. Painting teachers do the same thing. However, if you quit, you’ll make no progress at all. I started this diet in February; I thought I’d be down a hundred pounds now. I’m not, but I wouldn’t have lost a single pound had I not done it. While I didn’t meet my self-imposed goal, the last nine months have not been wasted in self-recrimination, either.
Home made wine, by Carol L. Douglas
Chaos is not helpful
I realized that my travel schedule had stalled my weight loss, despite my faithfulness to the plan. Then I started to look at my painting in the same light. All these road miles were not helping my painting, either. There’s tremendous value in travel, both as a painter and a person, but months on the road are corrosive. Most improvement is going to happen in your own studio.
Acrylic paints, by Carol L. Douglas
The method isn’t the issue
The method I’ve used to lose this weight is Haylie Pomroy’s Fast Metabolism Diet. It isn’t for everyone. But I’ve come to believe that the method is far less important than your own self-discipline.
The same is true in painting. There is no inherent superiority to alla prima oil painting, although it’s what I practice. One can paint beautifully indirectly in oils, or in acrylic, gouache, or pastel. Mastery comes from within, not from the pigment.
There’s a spiritual element
I believe that God loves me and wants me to be happy, so I can work through the lean times without losing my courage. I can afford to take risks and be intrepid. That’s true in dieting, in painting, and in my business model. If you lack courage, you need to take a long, hard look at why that is.
Toy monkey, by Carol L. Douglas
Ultimately, it’s all about you
I have a friend who’s unsure how she can embrace a radical diet when so much of her family life revolves around food. Likewise, I have friends whose family commitments mean they have to cut back on their painting time. I have lived both those realities, and I am not downplaying them.
But in the end, it’s all about you. Families are remarkably resilient when they realize how much it means to you to succeed. If you’re conflicted about whether your art or your diet are ‘worth it,’ that conflict will spill over to your home and play itself out in your relationships.
My own children survived my tofu lasagna, and holiday dinners with nudes on the walls. They grew up with a working mother in a working studio, and they’re accomplished, good citizens. There’s no reason to sacrifice yourself on an altar of ‘how things should be’ or listen to your own self-destructive thoughts. Yes, you can do this.
Wealth inequality leads to this kind of art circus.
Comedian, 2019,Maurizio Cattelan, photo courtesy Sarah Cascone
These stories come around periodically, and I remind myself to not rise to the bait. But here we go again: a banana taped to a wall by Italian artist-provocateur Maurizio Cattelanhas sold—not once, but twice—for $120,000. By the time the second iteration sold, Cattelan and his dealer had been on the phone together and decided to raise the price on the third and final iteration to $150,000. Two museums were interested.
Maurizio Cattelan is famous for two other highly-conceptual pieces: The Ninth Hour, which depicted Pope John Paul being struck by a meteorite, and an 18-karat-gold functional toilet entitled America, which was recently stolen from Blenheim Castle. (Since it contained $4 million in gold and the reward was a paltry $124,000, it was probably melted down.)
America, 2016, Maurizio Cattelan, photo courtesy Stu Spivack
Meanwhile, the majority of working artists worldwide will struggle to make $120,000 through art sales in their entire careers. In a way, that’s the equivalent of comparing my son’s music earnings to Taylor Swift’s, but the analogy breaks down there. Taylor Swift produces an actual product that is consumed by many millions of fans every year. Cattalan duct-taped a 25-cent banana to a wall. Actually, he didn’t. The taping was done by a gallerist, and they have a spare on hand in case the original gets moldy. The artist told Artnetthat although he isn’t there, the shape of the fruit, the angle it was taped to the wall and its placement in the booth were all “carefully considered.”
We are told there’s great concept underlying this banana. “Wherever I was traveling I had this banana on the wall. I couldn’t figure out how to finish it,” Cattelan toldArtnet writer Sarah Cascone. “In the end, one day I woke up and I said “the banana is supposed to be a banana.”
“When we started to work together, I had to fight to convince collectors one by one to buy his work,” dealer Emmanuel Perrotin told Cascone. In other words, this is a triumph of salesmanship, not art.
Most importantly, the bananas come with the artists’ certificate of authenticity, which may be the real work of art here. Without it, you have, er, a banana. “A work like that,” said Perrotin, “if you don’t sell the work, it’s not a work of art.”
La Nona Ora (the Ninth Hour), 1999, Maurizio Cattelan, courtesy Paul Nyzam
Meanwhile, Marketwatchblames this on wealth inequality:
“[T]he latest global art market report from Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions shows the time is ripe for such headline-making art sales. People are spending more money on high-end paintings, sculptures and other works, and the report notes that ultrahigh net worth individuals collectively hold $1.74 trillion in art and collectibles…
What does a gallerist do on a snow-day? Hang my show, of course.
Dancing Santa, by Carol L. Douglas
Maine Gallery Guide ran this feature about my upcoming studio Open House yesterday. If you like the Maine scene (especially if you live away), you really should subscribe to their newsletter. It’s the single best resource for our state’s art scene. Here’s a link to the sign-up page.
Meanwhile, my husband is fretting about the boxes and bags of stuff littering our house. “You’ve bought at least three times what you need,” he frets. Parties are where my inner Italian, usually tamped firmly down, comes into play. What’s worth doing, is worth doing to excess, I tell myself—and I buy more.
Part of the mess in my dining room.
No shindig is complete without the last-minute household disaster, and ours came in the form of a cracked chimney tile. This created the opportunity to move our woodstove from the kitchen to the dining room, where it has some chance of actually heating the house. We got the bad news two weeks ago and worked fast. Our mason opened the dining room wall last Monday, only to find a copper water line. All work stopped while we looked for a heating specialist to move the pipe.
Luckily, a young friend is coming to do the job on Sunday. Meanwhile, we have a hole in the dining room wall, and the rest of the room is a shambles. Whatever you do, don’t use our back stairs. The contents of our china cabinet are lined up on its treads. That staircase’s primary function is as a laundry chute, so we’re on pins and needles. If we forget, we’ll shatter a lifetime of useless collecting in a single moment.
And more mess. I bought the wine totally for its name.
Yesterday the storm that’s plagued the northeast this week finally showed up in mid-coast Maine. With so few people out, Sandy Quang left work early and stopped here to collect her mail. The poor young gallerist was about to enjoy a busman’s holiday. She spent the afternoon and evening helping me hang my work. She’s much better at it than me, and she has the additional advantage of a fresh eye. By the time we finished, the snow had stopped. It was a beautiful night, the moon shining dimly through the clearing clouds.
Even though the studio is a mess, I took a video of it for Bobbi Heath. “Are you posting that on Instagram?” she asked. No; it’s a mess, and I’m not very good at video. “People love to see the sausage being made,” she countered. She’s right; the two small videos I posted are being watched. Here’s a link and a link if you are also an avid sausage viewer.
Happy New Year! by Carol L. Douglas
Which brings me to my two resolutions for the new year. First, I’m going to learn to take a decent video. Second, I’m going to master my email list. But I’m always conflicted about email.
Yesterday I timed how many emails I was deleting. It was about 15 an hour, all asking me to donate money or to shop. That didn’t include the ones that ended up in my spam folder, which I watch carefully—Bruce McMillan’s very fine Postcard of the Daywas landing there for a while.
You can meet the original of my 4-H Christmas Angel on Saturday. She’s presiding over my tree, as she does every year.
That overload makes me hate the medium. But it’s a necessary evil, I’m afraid, at least until something better comes along.
Meanwhile, I hope to see you—in person—at my studio on Saturday. Here are the details, as if you could possibly forget them:
Carol L. Douglas Studio Open House Saturday, December 7, 2019 Noon to Five 394 Commercial Street, Rockport