A little Dada goes a long way

No wonder people don’t take art seriously as a profession.

Vilanova’s raincoat, hanging next to an exhibit about Picasso. Hanging it next to a large monochrome picture was great design… by the curator.

An art heist in Paris has the art world laughing at old people once again. A 72-year-old, ‘elderly’ woman mistook an art piece hanging on the wall for an abandoned jacket. Frugal, she took it home and then to a tailor to have the sleeves shortened.

A few days later, she returned to Musée Picasso, only to be immediately arrested.

The artist, Oriol Vilanova, expressed mild surprise that the museum’s security was that lax. They countered that they’d already spoken to him about the risks of hanging a jacket on a nail, and he’d refused to tighten it down. The idea, he pointed out, was that visitors should be free to rifle through the pockets and leaf through the postcards within.

The perp has widely been described as ‘elderly’. That is too often a synonym for ‘clueless’ in these stories. In fact, I suspect she was on Vilanova’s secret payroll, since she catapulted his work into a one-day wonder.

The piece has traveled to other venues since 2017. If the coat is hung next to a Picasso, for example, the pockets are stuffed with postcards of other Picasso paintings. On its own, it’s a fairly thin idea.

La Parisien, which originally reported it, said that this woman had converted the work to a mise en abyme.

mise en abyme is an image within an image, often repeating indefinitely. With the advent of computer science, we’ve started to call that recursion, as it resembles something that happens in software and mathematics.

Las Meninas, 1656-57, Diego Velázquez, courtesy of the Prado

But a mise en abyme doesn’t have to be a straight-up copy; it can be a reference, as in Diego VelázquezLas Meninas, where the artist frames his subjects in the context of having a portrait painted.

This 17th century painting looks for all the world like a snapshot. It’s a portrait of the five-year-old old Infanta Margaret Theresa, who is, in turn, surrounded by her personal coterie of attendants, dogs and dwarves. Velázquez himself is in the picture, as are the hazy images of the king and queen in the mirror in the background.

It is daring, inventive, complex, weird and mysterious. It’s fascinated viewers for almost four hundred years. In comparison, I wouldn’t be fascinated by Vilanova’s recursion for fifteen minutes.

Raincoat hanging over forsythia, 2022, Bruce McMillan, courtesy of the artist. I like it better than the original piece, since it subtly references the issue of our day, the war in Ukraine.

Bruce McMillan, who first pointed out this story to me, asked:

Art installation
on a rainy day
of an artist’s raincoat

hanging over the
flowers the artist
paints where art was to be,

or with unseen eyes
not to be, that was
the silent art question.

I’m afraid I have to come down firmly on the ‘blind’ side. The question Vilanova raises about art reproduction is sophomoric.

A mise en abyme from 20th century commercial art.

There is much in contemporary art that I like, but equally much that I resent. We’re enduring a time of relentless tearing down of western values. That includes the values we have traditionally revered in art: intellect, craftsmanship, beauty.

Western civilization has made us the fattest, happiest, most-literate society in the history of mankind. Even our poorest citizens are wealthier than most of the world. We haven’t endured warfare in our own country since 1865. Our kids have never known true economic privation.

These times are, historically speaking, an anomoly. They’re also an incredible blessing, but as Joni Mitchell once sang, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

Bananas taped to walls? Raincoats stuffed with postcards? They make a mockery of the importance of art, with little serious thought behind them. A little Dada goes a long way, and we’ve endured a century of it so far. No wonder people don’t take art seriously as a profession. 

Soul ties

What makes one painter stand out in our mind when another doesn’t even create a ripple?

River at Belvidere, date unknown, Chauncey F. Ryder, courtesy Blue Heron Fine Art

I was contemplating the dormant branches of a birch tree when Eric Jacobsen suggested I look at the work of Chauncey Ryder. “Who?” I asked. Eric goggled.

“He’s the reason I became an artist,” he enthused. Once he showed me some images on his phone, I understood, but until that moment, Ryder had never pierced my consciousness.

Mín Herðubreið / My Herðubreið, 1938, Gísli Baldvin Björnsson, courtesy Icelandic Times

My pal Bruce McMillan writes frequently about Icelandic painters on his blog. Without him, I never would have been introduced to the austere abstraction of painters like Louisa Matthíasdóttir or Gísli Baldvin Björnsson. At first, I found them uncomfortably brutal. Recently I’m finding that their exceptionally cool mien speaks to me.

I myself have a long-standing passion for mid-century Canadian and British painters, many of whom are, frankly, quirky. I was thrilled to find the work of Alfred Wallis, a Cornish fisherman who didn’t pick up a brush until he was widowed, past the age of seventy (which ought to be an inspiration to us all). To call his work naïve is to underrate its sheer oddity.

The Hold House Port Mear Square Island Port Mear Beach, c. 1932 by Alfred Wallis

Wallis was ‘discovered’ by mid-century British modernists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood in 1928. They brought his work to London; Nicholson even bought one of his paintings and presented it to MoMA. But Wallis never saw himself as anything but a retired St. Ives laborer who painted what he knew—“What I do mosley is what use To Bee out of my memory what we might never see again,” he wrote. It was unnecessary for him to laboriously unlearn the artistic conventions of his time; he’d never learned them in the first place.

I have a deep affection for Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, but I never saw their work until I was an adult. And yet I grew up a few blocks from the Canadian border, right across the Niagara River from Group of Seven country. Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Museum has a very fine Abstract-Expressionist collection because its leading light, Seymour Knox II, was crazy for modernism. His tastes were firmly fixed by New York, so the museum owns nothing of Thomson and his peers. They were too figurative for Mr. Knox’ taste.

Evening, (field sketch) 1913. Tom Thomson, courtesy Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

What makes one painter stand out in our mind when another doesn’t even create a ripple? In the past, it might have been a question of what we could see. Outside the major cities we had limited access to the panoply of art being made out there. But that’s not true today. We can all see new art, almost in real time, via social media and online museum shows.

Part of this, I’m sure, comes down to maturity. I probably wasn’t ready to see the quiet beauty of Chauncey Ryder when I was 14 and being dazzled by Clyfford Still. Part of it comes from looking at lots of art. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know, and the less I’m inclined to quick judgments. But there’s something else there, too, and that’s the response of the soul, which is—simply—ineffable.

Monday Morning Art School: notan

Notan differs from value study because it is based not just on what we observe. It is the orderly restriction of shapes into patterns. It is reality subservient to beauty.

Sextant, c. 1917, Marsden Hartley, oil on panel, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art


When I saw this collection of eight paintings based on the color orange, I realized they could demonstrate notan as neatly as traditional value-based examples do. Orange is uniquely high in chroma, so it’s easy to notice. It’s easy to see how the artists made a pattern based on it. From there, it’s not a great leap to see how great paintings can be constructed around a value-pattern too.

The Gossip, 1912, John White Alexander, oil on canvas, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art 

Notan is a traditional concept that refers to the harmony of light and dark elements in a painting. It’s been integral to East Asian art for centuries, and it was introduced in the West in the middle of the 19th century.

On paper it is easy to see that dark shapes do not exist without boundaries, which are made by a surrounding area of light. Equally, light shapes don’t exist without dark to define them. (This is the Chinese philosophical construct of yin-yangin a nutshell.)

Card, 1971, Helen Frankenthaler, color lithograph with crayon, courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago

This concept of notan reached its apogee in the East Asian artform of brush painting. This was the fourth and final discipline a Chinese scholar-gentleman was expected to learn, because it was the most difficult. Through brush painting, a Chinese noble demonstrated his mastery over the art of line, which had supreme artistic (and cultural) importance.

Excavation at the White House, c. 1941, Mitchell Jamieson, watercolor on paper, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

The idea of notan came to the west with our 19thcentury mania for all things Asian. It was introduced as a teaching system by Arthur Wesley Dow, who wrote the definitive book on composition for twentieth-century painters. He taught students to restrict the infinite range of tonal values in the visible spectrum to specific values—perhaps black, white and one grey. He wanted students to realize that all compositions are, underneath, a structure of light and dark shapes.

Beth, 1960, Morris Louis, acrylic on canvas, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art

But before Dow ever let his students get that far, he had them start with line drawing. Composition is above all about cutting the picture frame into shapes, which Dow called “space cutting.” We’re doing that every time we think about negative space, for example.

Untitled, 1958, Kenneth Noland, acrylic on canvas, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

Only when his students had created beautiful shapes did he allow them to start adding value. First black, then greyscale, and then—step by slow step—they could add color.

Child in Orange Dress with White Pinafore, 1911, Egon Schiele, gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper, courtesy Sothebys

Today we use the word notan as a noun, as a substitute for a value study before we paint. But the word never meant that to Dow or in the eastern cultures from which he borrowed it. Notan differs from value study because it is based not just on what we observe. It is the orderly restriction of shapes into patterns. It is reality subservient to beauty.

Church with Red Roof and White Walls, 1914, Maurice Utrillo, oil on canvas, courtesy Barnes Collection

Of course, notan encourages a specific aesthetic, one that we’ve pretty much abandoned over the last century. But it’s worth practicing and understanding, as a way to start thinking about the important tenets of composition.

A special thanks to Bruce McMillan, for cheerfully sharing his collection of orange paintings.

Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds

Yes, inconsistency is immature, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing.

Rocks and Sea, 1916-19, Edward Hopper, courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

The other day, Bruce McMillan sent out a blog post asking readers to identify an artist. (He kindly mailed me the images, which illustrate this post.) I’m pretty good at art history, especially 20th century American landscape painting, but I could not peg the painter. The drafting style was Wyeth-strong, the composition late Winslow Homer, the paint handling, California Impressionist, the lighting, Rockwell Kent. The overall impact wavered enough that I figured he’d slipped in a few ringers from other artists just to see if we were paying attention.

Sea and Rocky Shore, 1916-19, Edward Hopper, courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

Instead, he had quoted that preeminent painter of gritty American realism, one every self-respecting painter should be able to identify at fifty paces—Edward Hopper. Man, did I feel foolish.

Harbor Shore, Rockland, 1926, Edward Hopper, courtesy Blanton Museum of Art

Of course, most of these paintings were done before he ‘became’ the Hopper who painted Nighthawks, but surely a painter of his caliber should have some consistency? Actually, not. Many great painters have produced work with wildly different brushwork, drafting and intention over their careers. That’s obvious with modernists like Pablo Picasso, but it’s equally true of masters from antiquity such as Caravaggio.

Sketch of Portland, ME, by Edward Hopper

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s a quote that should be printed and tacked into every art box, because striving for consistency is a trap.

Cove at Ogunquit, 1914, Edward Hopper, courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

Critics sometimes say that inconsistency is a mark of immaturity—and it should be, because new painters are playful and experimental. That’s a good thing, and something that the rest of us should emulate. We tend to lose our inventiveness as we grow more accomplished. But the greatest painters are not afraid to move beyond what others perceive as good art.

Rocks and Cove, 1929, watercolor, Edward Hopper, courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

A lot of treacle has been churned out on the subject of style, including by me. Of course, style is very important in art. The problem is, it’s impossible to teach or control. Style is influenced by your place in history, your aesthetics, what you study and think about, your working process, and—ultimately—your soul.

Rocks and Waves, 1916-19, Edward Hopper, courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

Style should not be confused with mannerisms. Mannerisms are on the surface; style is internal. An example of a mannerism is palette-knife painting—you can put it on and take it off at will. But if you look at a brilliant palette-knife painter like Cynthia Rosen, you realize there’s far more to her style than the implement she’s using to apply paint. If she started painting with brushes tomorrow, that wouldn’t affect her way of seeing, her use of light, or her color sense.

Sketch of Pulpit Rock, Monhegan, by Edward Hopper

Conscious attempts to develop a style inevitably result in limitation. The artist puts himself into a box from which he cannot escape. The tragic career of the late Thomas Kinkade is an extreme example. The man was not without talent; who knows what he might have painted had he not locked himself into the ghastly pastorals that made his fortune? He died rich but miserable, at age 54 of acute alcohol poisoning, exacerbated by Valium.

Beautiful glimpses of the past

Today dories are an historical relic. When the Wyeths painted them, they were part of the saga of man and the sea.
Deep Cove Lobster Man, c 1938, N.C. Wyeth, oil, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Sometimes great emails get directed to my spam folder, particularly when they contain a dollar sign in the text. Thus it was when I saw Bruce McMillan’s note about seeing N. C. Wyeth: New Perspectives, which started at Brandywine River Museum and then moved to the Portland Museum of Art. It’s on its way to the Taft Museum of Art, opening on February 8.
What Bruce said that tripped my server was that the catalogue, $45 from the museum gift store, was available for $24.50 from Amazon, including shipping. Even with his member discount, he saved $17, or 42%. I immediately ordered the same book and paid $28.49, because books aren’t always the same price on Amazon.
Untitled, 1938, watercolor, Andrew Wyeth, sold at auction in 2017
That price difference is particularly noticeable in museum catalogues and fancy art books. I recently ordered an art text for my brother-in-law that was listed at over $200; he paid $24 for it. Because of this, I’ve learned to check my phone as I exit a show. Feel free to support an institution by paying a higher price in the gift shop, just be aware that you’re doing so.
The Lobsterman (The Doryman), 1944, N.C. Wyeth, egg tempera, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bruce noted that the painting above, The Lobsterman (The Doryman), is “where people stopped and gazed longer than almost any other painting. There’s so much to see in its simplicity; it keeps people looking.”


This is one of five Maine dories I’m looking at today. All are by the first two Wyeths, père et fils, and all of the boats are occupied by people. The last image, Adrift, is almost funerary, and that points to the particular storytelling genius of the Wyeth clan. Was Andrew painting about the model or the working boat?
Adrift, 1982, Andrew Wyeth, egg tempera, private collection
“This is Walter Anderson, Andrew’s devilish friend since childhood, who his parents didn’t like Andrew associating with, who Ed Deci, former curator of the Monhegan Museum, considered a despicable crook, and who I knew when living on McGee Island, off Port Clyde for two years,” Bruce wrote.
Andrew Wyeth was a young boy when he and his family first began summering in Maine. Andrew became friends with Walter and Douglas Anderson, son of a local hotel cook. Walt and Andrew became inseparable, and spent their days in a dory, exploring the coast and islands where locals fished. The two men remained friends for life. While Walt was clamming or otherwise ramshackling around, Andrew was painting.
Dark Harbor Fishermen, 1943, N.C. Wyeth, egg tempera, courtesy Portland Museum of Art
That’s the biggest difference between contemporary dory paintings and the Wyeths’ of nearly a century ago. They knew the boats and the men and boys who used them, intimately.
Before there were decent roads, working dories were the best way to move around coastal Maine. They were easily hauled up onto the beach. They could carry a few hundred pounds of fish or freight. From early settlement until mid-century, they were used as working boats, casually rowed (often standing) by working fishermen.
The Drowning, 1936, N.C. Wyeth, oil, courtesy Brandywine River Museum. This painting is in response to the drowning death of sixteen-year-old Douglas Anderson, who disappeared while lobstering. His body was found by his father and his younger brother, Walt.
Today they’re an historical relic, whereas to the Wyeths, they were part of the story of man and the sea. Dories today are divorced from their close association with working people. We paint them at their moorings, shimmering in the light, with no sense of the thin skin they once provided between the working fisherman and the cold, cold North Atlantic.

Is the plein air festival losing its punch?

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.
Then there was a public announcement that the Bucks County Plein Air Festival is being discontinued. Two data points do not a trend line make, but in the face of my own personal experience, it looks ominous.
“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?

A roadmap to my party

This was sent to me by children’s book author and artist Bruce McMillan, who noted that my December 7 Open House and Studio Party celebrates painter Stuart Davis’ 125th birthday (December 7, 1894).
If going to the Open House make sure to gas up for the trip. The ghost of Stuart Davis may be going with you.
Gas Station, also known as Garage No. 1, Stuart Davis, 1917, courtesy Hirshhorn Museum
Make sure you drive to Rockport ME and not Rockport MA. Oh ME, Oh MA!
Report from Rockport, Stuart Davis, 1940, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Go past the yellow house; there has to be a yellow house somewhere along the drive. [Editor’s note: it’s next door.]
Private Way, Stuart Davis, c. 1916, courtesy Christie’s Auction House

“Davis and his family first went to Gloucester in the summer of 1915, attracted by John Sloan’s enthusiasm. Eventually, his parents acquired a house on Mount Pleasant Avenue, where both Davis and his sculptor mother kept studios; over the next twenty years Davis would spend extended periods on Cape Ann. Gloucester imagery would permeate almost all of the work of this avowedly-urban painter for years to come, but if the accoutrements of the working harbor held a lifelong fascination for him, the particulars of Gloucester space and geography were crucial to his early evolution.” (Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 55)

Hope it doesn’t snow on Stuart’s 125th birthday, that the driving will be clear and dry.
City Snow Scene, Stuart Davis, 1911, courtesy Christie’s Auction House
Davis combined the principles of Henri’s teaching with the technique and palette of his contemporary and close friend, John Sloan. Davis succeeds in rendering a dreary winter’s day in lower Manhattan. With a generous application of whites, Davis works up the surfaces to portray the texture of the snow which is juxtaposed with the more carefully applied reds to develop the architecture in the background. Broad, heavily applied strokes of black are the only device Davis employs to represent the pedestrians with the exception of a few simple touches of orange that delineate the faces of the primary figures in the foreground. Vigorous dashes of greyish-white provide a sense of the blustery, swirling snow, the drama of which is underscored in the foreground figures who are bracing themselves against the elements. Davis employs strong linear perspective to capture the broad avenue and achieves spatial effect by placing two figures in the foreground marking the entry point into the composition. To carefully define the space, Davis uses planar structures along the left side and staggered vertical lampposts and industrial smokestacks to establish depth. Figures are also used to demarcate space intervals in the scene as they are integrated at varying points in the composition.

Don’t stop to gawk at or sketch any boats along the way; you’ll see boats in Carol’s art once you get there.

Sketchbook 19-7: Rosemarie, Boston, Stuart Davis, ink on paper, 1938, courtesy Cape Ann Museum
Hey, skip the boats—really—and head up to heights above the harbor on Route 1.
Boats, Stuart Davis, 1930, courtesy the Phillips Collection
At last you’ll be at the artist’s studio… Carol’s, not Stuart’s.
Studio Interior, Stuart Davis, 1917, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
There will be crowds and crowds, though no servant girls, sorry; it’s self-service. What do you think this is? A restaurant?
Servant Girls, Stuart Davis, 1913, watercolor and pencil on paper, exhibited at the Armory Show. Courtesy Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute
The Association of American Painters and Sculptors originally planned to exhibit only the work of members and those they invited. However, in response to a growing chorus of queries, they asked interested artists to submit works to the Domestic Art Committee for selection. Davis’s work was chosen, and at twenty-one years old, he was one of the youngest artists represented in the Armory Show. In later years, Davis described the 1913 exhibition as a turning point in his artistic development. He called it “the greatest single influence I have experienced in my work,” which prompted him “to become a ‘modern artist.’”

And as the sign says: You Are Here. While everyone wonders, how does Stuart know?

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Monday Morning Art School: continuing education

We learn from studying our peers and the painters who’ve gone before us.
Victoria Street, oil on linen, 16×20, by Carol L. Douglas
Bruce McMillan emailed me last week. “Just in case you feel you’re painting a lot, in 1911, from early August to late September on Monhegan, Robert Henri painted 300 paintings, most of them on 12×15 wooden boards, his last major foray into marine art.”
I churned out fifteen largish canvases in thirteen days during my Parrsboro residency and wondered if I was sacrificing quality for quantity. But I’m familiar with Henri’s marine paintings; they’re simple, monumental and brilliant. Bruce’s reassurance came at exactly the right time.
Once we’re done with art classes, we learn mostly from observing other artists. When we see something that we admire, we want to incorporate the essence of that idea into our work. It’s not stealing; it’s how all art develops.
Miss Margaret, oil on canvasboard, 8×10, by Carol L. Douglas. Maggie was my roommate for two weeks.
Alison Hill is a painter I’ve known since before I moved to Maine. We were set up next to each other at Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation last month, so I had time to study her brushwork. She lays it down once and leaves it.
A writer told me recently, “you can rewrite that ending eight times and it won’t necessarily be better; you’ll just have eight different endings.” At least with the written word, they’re separate. In alla prima painting, those previous iterations lie there in the murk and muddy up the top layers.
I’d never heard of Tom Forrestall before this current trip. He’s sometimes called the Canadian Andrew Wyeth because of the precision of his egg tempera technique. But beneath that is a light, quirky vision. It’s magical realism unencumbered with social commentary. Can this kind of ruthless observation be learned? I won’t know until I try.
Clearing to the west, oil on canvas, 12×16, by Carol L. Douglas
Tara Will is a pastel painter from Maryland. She has never met a compositional rule she’s not willing to bend, break or pummel into submission. I look at everything she posts because her paintings are always colorful, light, and energetic. She keeps pastel lean and fresh.  
Marc Granboisis a plein air painter from Quebec. His snow and ice are tremendous, but his skies are what I’m interested in these days. He can pull moody, brooding, and dramatic out of a leaden northern sky. There’s tremendous energy in his linework and patterning.
Every artist needs to know art history to understand where he or she fits into the great saga of art. A number of Nova Scotians commented that my painting style looked very Tom Thomson or Group of Seven. That’s partially because they’re familiar to Canadians, but it’s also because I have studied them for many years.
Recent landslide (Cape Sharp), oil on linen, 18×24, by Carol L. Douglas. This painting is the only one that’s going to get a studio revision–in this case, a crop, I think. I removed something at the last minute and it unbalanced the composition. 
More recently, I’ve been thinking about the Scottish Colourists, particularly Francis Cadell. Both the Canadians and Scottish groups are post-impressionist, but they’re as interested in a sense of place as they are in formal order and structure.
Most of the painters I’ve mentioned are not superstars; they’re my fellows in the trenches. Who do you admire right now? What can you learn from their painting?

Your list will be different from mine, but thinking about what you like in your peers’ work gives you an idea of what you might want to change in your own. It’s a moving target. In a year, we’ll be talking about entirely different artists.

One messed-up dude

But Egon Schiele certainly could paint a lovely boat.

Segelschiffe im wellenbewegtem Wasser (Der Hafen von Triest), 1907, Egon Schiele, private collection
I have a hard time loving the work of Egon Schiele. Erotic paintings, emaciated figures, and anguished self-portraits leave me cold. I far prefer the Expressionism of Käthe Kollwitz and Gabriele Münter. They weren’t happy, either, but at least they had something real to complain about.
Then my friend Bruce McMillan introduced me to Schiele’s boat paintings. They don’t quite make up for all those tortured people, but they’re beautifully drawn and kinetic. Interestingly, the highest auction prices for Schiele’s work are not for his erotica, but for his landscapes, including the record-setting Häuser mit bunter Wäsche ‘Vorstadt’ II, which sold for $40.1 million in 2011.
Boote im Hafen von Triest, 1908, Egon Schiele, courtesy Landesmuseum Niederösterreich
There’s no question that Schiele was a prodigy. At 16, he was the youngest student ever to enroll at Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts. After three years, he quit without graduating. In school and after, he was mentored by Gustav Klimt, who did much to advance his career.
“Klimt was an established star and Schiele a cocksure student when the two first met in 1908,” wroteLaura Cumming. “But it is immediately obvious… that their obsessions were already mutual.”
Klimt had innumerable affairs and fathered 14 children out of wedlock. But he was staid compared to his protégée, who was completely amoral in matters of sexuality. Schiele was incestuously attracted to his sister Gerti, to the great consternation of their father (who went on to die of syphilis himself). At age 16, Schiele took Gerti, then 12, by train to Trieste and spent the night with her. 
At 21, he met Walburga (Wally) Neuzil, age 17, one of Klimt’s models. Aspiring to leave ‘repressive’ Vienna behind, the couple moved to a small Bohemian village. Driven out due to their lifestyle, they moved to slightly-larger Neulengbach. There, Schiele was accused of seducing a young girl and making pornographic images available to children. Although the rape charge was eventually dropped, he spent a month in jail for the pictures.
Dampfer und Segelboote im Hafen von Triest, watercolor, pencil and gouache on Japan paper, 1912, Egon Schiele
Back in Vienna, he wrote a friend, “I intend to get married, advantageously. Not to Wally.” Instead, he’d picked out Edith Harms, from a good middle-class family. As a former prostitute and artist’s model, Wally was a professional liability. Schiele proposed that he and Wally continue their relationship, vacationing together every summer without Edith. Wally indignantly refused.
Four days after the wedding, Egon Schiele was drafted into the army. He was given a job as a clerk in a POW camp. There, he drew and painted imprisoned Russian officers, nicking extra rations for himself and Edith on the side.
Die Brücke, 1913, Egon Schiele, private collection
By 1917, Schiele was back in Vienna. He was invited to participate in the Vienna Secession’s 49th exhibition in 1918, with a prodigious 50 works in the show. His success was spectacular. Demand—and prices—for Schiele’s work rose rapidly.
It was, alas, a short-lived triumph. In autumn of that year, Spanish flu pandemicreached Vienna. Edith and their unborn child died on October 28. Schiele lived just three days more. He was just 28.
It’s tempting to wonder what marriage, parenthood, and maturity would have done to temper the wild excesses of his youth, or how it would have changed his style. But, had he lived to ripe old age, Schiele would have also experienced the annexation of Austria by the Nazis twenty years later. It’s hard to imagine he would have prospered.

Finding your audience

Marketing art is about being as visible and transparent as you can tolerate.
Electric Glide, by Carol L. Douglas

“Any thoughts you ever have on who might be interested in what I do, either gallery-wise, or direct buyer-wise, I’m all ears,” a reader commented on a recent post about finding your audience. I know this painter, but she lives in Colorado and I don’t know her market. I do know she’s already taking the first step I’d recommend: applying to plein airevents to get herself noticed.

What does ‘marketing’ mean?
  • Getting your paintings seen by an audience;
  • Keeping that audience engaged with your process via regular communication;
  • Inviting them to your events.

Put that way, it’s not so daunting, is it? But expect to work half your workday at this marketing gig—first by studying how it works, and then by implementing what you’ve learned.
Dry Wash, by Carol L. Douglas
For example, although I’ve had an Instagram account for several years, I only recently figured out how it actually works. I learned that by listening to webinars and my friend Bobbi Heath.
An artist can’t have too many friends. Often, the sale is less about what you know than who you know.
Still, can you talk comfortably about specific pieces of your work? Your inspiration and process? This self-knowledge is critical to selling your own work. Here’s a test: ask your best friend about what it is that you do all day. If he or she can’t answer, then maybe you need to start talking about your process more.
Cape Elizabeth Cliffs, by Carol L. Douglas
Everyone has an audience, and it started with your family. Just as your social circle grew in concentric circles from them, so too does your audience start with close friends and family. Your friends on Facebook and your followers on Instagram are your first audience. You need to connect with them regularly about your art. From that, your audience will grow as naturally as your circle of friends did when you were a child.
Your posts in all media should be designed to show a ‘whole’ you—not just your finished paintings. Your studio, your town, your brushes, your gaffes all combine for a total picture of you as an artist. Be as transparent as you have the nerve to be.
Tricky Mary in a Pea Soup Fog, by Carol L. Douglas
And update your website, or make one if you don’t already have one. That’s your business-card to the Web, and it must be as beautiful and inviting as you can make it. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive. It should include a bio/CV, artist statement, images of your work, and contact information.
Only then are you ready to approach a bricks-and-mortar gallery, because the first thing they’re going to do is look up who you are on the Internet.
As for what galleries you should approach, that requires legwork. Make a habit of visiting galleries in your area to check out the work they sell. Get to know the gallerists. Approach only those that seem like a good fit. And don’t be afraid of rejection; there are many reasons galleries won’t take you that have nothing to do with your work.
Tom Sawyer’s Fence, by Carol L. Douglas
At the beginning, I said that my reader is already applying for plein air shows. They’re a great way to be seen by a wider audience. So too are art festivals and juried shows. Apply to as many as you can tolerate.
Here’s a final bit of advice from my pal Bruce McMillan: “I tell my students in my children’s book class that the way to deal with rejection when submitting a manuscript is to assume it’s going to be rejected. That way you’re never disappointed. And while it’s away, get the next place lined up that will reject it.”