Monday Morning Art School: is that painting finished?

Our hectoring superegos are not always the best judges of painterly quality.

Self Portrait with Disheveled Hair, 1628-29, Rembrandt van Rijn, courtesy Rijksmuseum

In my studio, there are more than a hundred unfinished paintings in drying racks. I’d feel bad about that, except that most plein air artists I know store up unfinished pictures like squirrels store nuts. We say we’re going to work on them during the winter, and sometimes we do. Other times, we just go out and start more paintings.

There is another stack on the other side of my studio. These are paintings I’ve either decided aren’t first rate or that I won’t ever bother to finish. I periodically go through them with the intention of winnowing them down. Often, I’m surprised that they’re actually not bad at all.

Self Portrait at the Age of 63, 1669, Rembrandt van Rijn, courtesy National Gallery, London

“Ah, a procrastinator,” you might say, but you’d be wrong. I’m actually disciplined in my work habits. I’ve just learned to trust my subconscious more than I did as a younger person. Twenty years ago, I thought a painting was finished when it achieved the effect I was striving for. Today a painting is finished when I’m sick of working on it. I’ve learned to be less critical of myself. My hectoring superego is not always the best judge of painterly quality.

The division between brilliantly-raw and plain-unfinished is highly subjective. That line often changes over the course of an artist’s career. Paul Cezanne’s paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire done in the 1880s are significantly more refined than those done from 1904-6. Rembrandt’s youthful Self Portrait with Disheveled Hair is an amazing exercise in chiaroscuro, but the brushwork is much tighter than his Self-Portrait at the Age of 63 (the year of his death). The changes in Claude Monet’s final paintings are usually blamed on his failing eyesight, but they are also the culmination of a career-long path toward looser, more audacious painting.

Women in the Garden, 1866–1867, Claude Monet, courtesy Musée d’Orsay

That is not to say that every artist becomes looser as they age. Grant Wood painted in the same precise style until his death of pancreatic cancer at age 51. Of course, we have no idea how he might have painted had he lived longer. The same is true of Caravaggio, who only made it to 39. On the other hand, Titian, who lived until his late eighties, spent his last years as an impossible perfectionist. He returned to older works and repainted them, fixed up copies made by his students, and kept some paintings in his studio for more than a decade of tweaking—all of which must give art historians the vapors.

The difference lies in what drove these artists in the first place. Cezanne, Rembrandt and Monet were never interested in a high degree of finish, but rather in the effects of paint. The culmination of their efforts was looseness. In contrast, Caravaggio, Titian, and Wood were what we call linear painters, interested in creating the illusion of three-dimensional space through careful modeling. For them to suddenly become interested in dynamic brushwork would have been a complete repudiation of their life’s work.

Weeping Willow, 1918–19, Claude Monet, courtesy Kimball Art Museum

One of the cliches of art instruction I particularly hate is, “Not another brushstroke! Don’t overwork it.” Nobody else can tell you positively that your painting is finished, because nobody else knows your intentions. We can engage you in dialog and help you clarify your thinking. But the only legitimate judge of whether you’re done is you, the artist. 

I have found that when I can’t finish a painting, the best thing I can do is to set it aside. Sometimes, my skills aren’t up to the effect I was trying to achieve, and I need to practice. Sometimes I don’t know how to finish it, and I need to think. Sometimes it’s a lousy painting, and it belongs in the reject pile. And sometimes a period of reflection reveals that the painting was, in fact, finished all along.

Analyzing your own work

Where do you fall in each of these scales? Where do you want to be?

The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1599–1600, by Caravaggio, courtesy Contarelli Chapel, Rome. This model of Baroque painting has an open structure, lighting unity and relative clarity.

I have written about painterliness here, and here. It’s an important concept in contemporary art that was first coined by the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin. He was trying to create an objective system for classifying styles of art in an age of raging Expressionism.  

Wölfflin was primarily concerned with the stylistic changes from the Classical to Baroque periods, but he was the first art historian to analyze paintings based on their internal, intrinsic values rather than just their place in social history. It’s too bad that his writing is so ponderous, because his pairs are useful tools for us to analyze our own work. Where do you fall in each of these scales? Where do you want to be? Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer, because each of these ideas has gone in and out of style many times in the history of painting.

Portrait of a Young Man with a Book, c 1540, Bronzino, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a linear, rather than painterly, painting. That doesn’t make it any less brilliant.

Linearity vs. painterliness:

Linear paintings have clearly defined, distinct shapes. Painterly paintings blur edges and forms to create a more unified surface.

La danse (first version), 1909, Henri Matisse, courtesy of MoMA, is a single-plane painting.

Plane vs. recession:

This is the contrast between a painting that operates with a simple foreground-background (like Mona Lisa, for example) and one with multiple planes coming together to create a form.

Nymphs and Satyr, 1873, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, courtesy Clark Art Institute, is a multiple-plane painting of the same subject. 

Closed vs. open:

Closed paintings are constructed using a structure of horizontal and vertical lines that contain them within the frame. Open paintings use diagonals, giving the feeling that there is an image continuing beyond the frame.

Annunciation, c. 1470, Benvenuto di Giovanni, is an example of clarity in lighting and a multiplicity of objects. Compare it to the Caravaggio above to see the amazing stylistic leap made in a century in Italian painting.

Multiplicity and unity:

Before the Baroque, paintings focused on detail. Individual items stood out independently, giving a sense of multiplicity. A united painting focuses on the whole and gives the sense of flow and motion. Unified light is a key element in making this possible.

Absolute vs. relative clarity:

In absolute paintings, the viewer can see everything that’s happening in the painting, and the subject is usually front-and-center. The light is even. In a relative structure, deep shadows draw and define our focus, which is unified across the whole painting.

Note: I have one opening in my Monday night class starting March 1. Additional information is here. If you’re interested, please let me know. 

What can you learn from a pumpkin?

The inner self emerges, despite our best efforts to keep it stuffed down.

Pumpkins by Maggie Daigle.

If the weather holds today, I’ll be painting with my pal Ken DeWaard. We don’t worry about painting the same subject. He doesn’t want to paint like me, and—because he won’t let me copy off his paper—I don’t paint like him.

This week I assigned my Zoom classes to paint pumpkins. They’re in season, after all. After I’d had that brilliant idea, I had to figure out something interesting to say on the subject. That was harder, but I eventually managed to marry pumpkins to a Big Idea in Painting.

Pumpkins by Mary Silver.

Color temperature is especially complicated on an orange (or blue) object, because they’re at the outside edges of that useful artistic convention we call “warm and cool.” If you’re managing the color of light by simply modulating all your colors with the same tinted white pigment, it’s no great problem. But if, like the Impressionists, you’re dialing around the color wheel to control the color of light, you run into a problem. There’s simply nowhere warmer than orange or cooler than ultramarine blue. That gave me a subject to talk about regarding pumpkins.

My students then proceeded to paint. And that’s where the real learning started… for me.

A leaning tower of pumpkins by Kathy Mannix (unfinished).

I wasn’t optimistic about the results. After all, how interesting could two dozen still-life paintings of pumpkins be? It’s not as if the gourds were out in the field waiting to be gathered up, on plants, buried in leaves, or stacked in innovative ways. Shorn of context, they would be plopped on tables from Maine to Texas. I expected to harvest a crop of very similar paintings.

Instead, there was as much variety as there would have been if I’d suggested self-portraits.

Pumpkins by Patricia Mabie.

Kathy Mannix stacked hers in a leaning tower. Samantha East added a large squash to break up the composition. Lorraine Nichols laid her gourds out on a textile printed with pumpkins; Maggie Daigle and Patricia Mabie played the stripes of their gourds against the stripes of textiles. Carrie O’Brien’s pumpkins were reflected in the bowl of a silver spoon. Somehow, each painting was reflective of each artist, “warts and all,” as Lori Galan joked about her own painting.

Pumpkins by Yvonne Bailey.

The arts are the voice of our inner self, but painting is uniquely self-expressive. It’s influenced fairly equally by both our conscious and subconscious minds. Contrary to what you might think, our subconscious expression gets stronger the more we gain technical skill. When our process runs quietly in the background, there’s space and time for our souls to start speaking.

For example, it’s impossible to mistake a Caravaggio for an Artemisia Gentileschi, even though both painted Biblical subjects, belong to the same general broad movement in art and underwent similar training. It’s not just the lighting or drafting that immediately tell us which is which, either. The very personality of their work is different.

One very warty pumpkin by Lori Capron Galan (unfinished).

There are many reasons for a teacher to avoid trying to create mini-me painters in the studio, but it’s a pointless exercise anyway. The inner self emerges despite our best efforts to keep it stuffed down.

I’m also reminded—again—that there’s little point in trying to predict the outcome of my ideas. Sometimes I’ll put something out that I think is dreck, and it catches the public imagination. Sometimes, I’ll labor long and hard on something I think is brilliant, but nobody else much cares. I’ve learned to just cast my bread upon the waters and let the results take care of themselves.

Monday Morning Art School: saving a so-so painting

You like it, but there’s something just not exactly right. Or you’re not sure you like it at all.

Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando, 1879, Edgar Degas National Gallery, London. How does pattern and repetition hold this painting together?
Last week I went through a collection of paintings belonging to another artist. “Pull out the ones that I should burn,” she said. There were almost none in that category. In fact, most of them were quite lovely.
Of the ones that weren’t, most were promising starts that either fizzled or were never finished. “You can fix this very easily,” I kept saying. Of about 75 small paintings she brought, only a very few were consigned to the burn pile. Most of them needed a simple fix: a passage lightened, an edge softened, or a focal point developed. All she needed was to have those pointed out.
The next day, my student Dave went through my slush pile during a break. It’s huge; it has hundreds of paintings in it. “I love this,” he kept saying. “Why don’t you like this?”
Crucifixion of St. Peter, 1600, Caravaggio, Cerasi Chapel, Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. In chiaroscuro, value creates volume. How did Caravaggio drive us back through space in this painting?
I don’t not like them, I told him; I just don’t feel like selling them. I almost never wipe out work that’s not finished or not what I’d envisioned. They go on shelves in my studio. Occasionally, I will sell these paintings for rock-bottom prices, but mostly they’re there for my edification. Occasionally, I’ll notice something I really like and pull it out and study it, both for what’s working and what isn’t working.
Everyone has problem paintings. Often, I discover a year or two later that what I thought was a problem was actually a roadmap. It was a precursor to where I was headed as a painter. In some cases, all these paintings need is varnish to bring up the color and they sing. Or, they may need revision.
Michael tramples Satan, 1636, Guido Reni, Santa Maria della Concezione church, Rome. How does line drive you through this painting?
Last week, I wrote about the five basic elements of painting design. The best way to rescue a so-so painting is to subject it to formal analysis. That doesn’t mean you have to write a dissertation about it. It means you consider your painting in terms of each of these design elements. Are you using line, shape, space, color and texture to guide the viewer through the space you’ve created? Have you emphasized important passages and subordinated others? Is there repetition, pattern and rhythm in the piece?
A painting that doesn’t work almost always fails in several of these areas. You are as qualified as anyone to analyze your paintings based on these objective standards. There’s a great advantage in learning to do this: you will never be led astray be a stupid critique again. (I once ruined a wonderful painting by following bad advice, made worse because I’d paid for it.)
Le Wagon de troisième classe (The third-class carriage), 1864, Honoré Daumier, Metropolitan Museum of Art. This has nothing to do with the subject of this post; it’s just how I feel when flying.
We recently did this exercise in my Rockport painting class. In my experience, amateurs fixate on mark-making to the exclusion of far more important qualities in painting. They’re so worried about their handwriting that they fail to see the bigger picture. My students walked away from this exercise with the objective knowledge that they were doing better than they thought. I think you will, too.
I would have illustrated this with some of my flubs, but I’m traveling today without access to my server. I’m off to Pecos, NM, to paint snow.

Monday Morning Art School: the basic elements of design

Design elements are there whether you’re conscious of them or not. Learn to use them.

I and the Village, 1911, Marc Chagall, courtesy MOMA. In this painting, line is a dominant design element, articulating the relationship between man, beast and place.


In math, a line is straight, has no thickness and extends in both directions through space. Sometimes that’s what we mean by a line in art—for example, a horizon line.
More typically in art, a line is just a path through space. Wherever you have an edge, you also have a line. However, lines also refer to mark-making, so in that sense they can be fat, thin, punctuated, tapering, diffident, bold or whispering.
Diagonals and curves tend to keep us more engaged than unbroken verticals, as they’re more difficult for the eye to ‘solve.’
Interior of the Laurenskerk in Rotterdam, 1664-66, Cornelis de Man, courtesy Mauritshuis. The illusion of three-dimensional form is created with drawing and value.
Shape and form
Shape and form define objects in space. Shapes have two dimensions–height and width–and are usually bounded by lines. Forms are three-dimensional. The artist’s dilemma is to give the illusion of three-dimensional form in a two-dimensional painting.
Ploughing in the Nivernais, 1849, Rosa Bonheur, courtesy Musée d’Orsay. The vast sky and field create as much narrative as do the team of oxen.
Space is, in the real world, three-dimensional. In art, the term refers to a sense of depth, or the artist’s use of the area within the picture plane. The illusion of three-dimensional space is created with perspective drawing, atmospherics, positioning, size, and defining volume through modeling.
Sometimes we refer to negative and positive space, which means the division between the primary object(s) and what we perceive as the background. Positive and negative space were a very big deal in much twentieth-century design, which often used the vast emptiness of the page as a counterweight to the primary object.
The Crucifixion of Saint Peter, 1601, Caravaggio, courtesy Cerasi Chapel. Chiaroscuro relies primarily on value to drive the eye.
Color has three essential characteristics:
  • Hue—where it falls on the color wheel (red, blue, etc.),
  • Chroma—how brilliant or dull it is,
  • Value—how light or dark it is.
Color is also described as ‘warm’ or ‘cool,’ but these are useful artistic conventions and not measurable as fact.
Historically, value did much of the heavy lifting in painting. The Impressionists began using hue and chroma to define volume, and that is essentially how most alla primapainters work today.
Portrait of the Baronness James de Rothschild, 1848, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, private collection. We see satin, lace, tulle, feathers and jewels primarily due to Ingres’ exquisite control of reflected light.
Texture refers to the surface quality of an object. Paintings have implied texture, conveyed by color, line and brushwork. They also have real texture in the form of smooth or impasto surfaces.
Your assignment is to take one of your own paintings and subject it to formal analysis. Consider each of these elements of design in turn. How are you using them? How could you use them better?

What about Goya?

Who really invented abstraction? Everyone.
A dog engulfed in sand, 1819-1823, Francisco Goya, courtesy of Museo del Prado

A thoughtful reader sent me this essay yesterday, which nominates the Swedish painter Hilma af Klint, rather than Wassily Kandinsky, as the first practitioner of abstract art. Like Kandinsky, she was a follower of Madame Helena Blavatsky, occultist, spirit medium, and founder of Theosophy. Like Kandinsky, she believed her abstract paintings were, in fact, representations of spiritual ideas.

When I studied art back in the last millennium, the first abstract painting was attributed to the great Spanish romantic, Francisco Goya. The painting in question, now called A Dog Engulfed in Sand, or simply El Perro, was one of Goya’s so called ‘black paintings,’ from the end of his life. These are haunted works, reflecting Goya’s bitter disillusionment and fears.  He had lived through the terrible Napoleonic Wars and their political aftermath in Spain. He was elderly, nearly deaf, and had survived two brushes with death.
Seascape Study with Rain Cloud (Rainstorm over the Sea), 1824-28, John Constable, courtesy Royal Academy of Arts
Goya never intended El Perro or any of the other black paintings to be shown. By the 20th century, however, El Perro was famous. Pablo Picasso certainly knew it. Antonio Saura called it “the most beautiful picture in the world”. Rafael Canogar described it as the first symbolist painting of the West. The sculptor Pablo Serrano paid homage to it.
A study in pencil, ink, ink wash, brush and pen, for The Death of the Virgin, 1601-1606, Caravaggio
“The sleep of reason begets monsters,” wrote Goya about Los Caprichos. By the end of his life, the monsters were visiting him during the daytime, too.
Any meaning we ascribe to A Dog Engulfed in Sand comes from its title. That was added later, by art historians. None of the black paintings were titled. They were intensely private, painted as murals on his walls. And what a happy home that must have been.
The Monk by the Sea, c. 1808–1809, Caspar David Friedrich
At first sight, El Perro doesn’t seem to be a figurative painting at all. Two dominant blocks of color intersect. At that point a blob of grey paint, the face of a dog, represents all of Goya’s anguished humanity. We, the viewers, are being squashed between relentless forces.
“Abstraction” is a word Goya would not have understood, let alone used. But it is abstraction that gives El Perro its awful power.
Mountain market, clearing mist, Yu Jian, Song Dynasty, China
Many early artists used raw abstraction to work out ideas, or just to doodle, just as figurative painters still do today. I’ve included a few famous examples here, ranging from Caravaggio to Caspar David Friedrich. And that’s just in the western canon. In eastern art, the idea of the voidmeant that slavish adherence to representation was never a paramount virtue.

Same spot, different vision

None of us see the same way. It’s more important to achieve the right state of mind than to find the perfect angle.
Dyce Head in the early morning light, 12X9, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas. I’m drawn to lighthouses, even though I know they’re a trope and a trap.

One of the joys of participating in painting events is running into the same people. Often, we don’t just paint in the same locations, we paint the same scene. Still, our paintings end up looking vastly different. How does that happen?

It’s partly a matter of composition and the pigments we choose. Occasionally it doesn’t work; for example, an iconic object like a well-known lighthouse can force painters into a narrow box. A scene with only a single viewpoint creates the same problem.
Not a cloud in the sky, 8X6, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas. This is the Owl’s Head Light painted from the back.
One of the distinguishing factors in painting is how the artist perceives light. To some degree, all of us see it within our own historical perspective, where certain values predominate. In our time, the driving forces are color temperature and chroma. But light in a painting is also a spiritual element that reflects the artist’s own values, identity, and perception of reality.
This isn’t a thinking process: no artist goes out in the morning and says, “I think I’ll seek out a strong rim light today.” It’s a matter of what draws his or her eye, and through it, speaks to his or her soul.
Owl’s Head Light, 8X10, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas
In other words, the last thing lighting is in a great painting is an ‘effect.’ You can see that clearly in chiaroscuro. It was wildly popular throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and continues to be used in photography to this day. Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Georges de la Tourand Artemisia Gentileschi all used it; it was the stylistic convention of their time. But they ended up with vastly different results. We viewers can read far more about the artists than just their historical setting. The way they handle light tells us about their character.
Henri Matisse thought deeply about art history and his place within it. He described a distinction in his own work between natural light and inner, or what he called “moral light.”
Cape Spear Road, 10X8, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas. That’s not one, but two, lighthouses.
“A picture must possess a real power to generate light and for a long time now I’ve been conscious of expressing myself through light or rather in light,” he said.
Matisse was an agnostic. “But the essential thing,” he said, “is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.”
“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter – a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” For a founding Fauvist, that seems contradictory. But Matisse’s essential convictions overrode his stylistic ideas. His work is restful.
None of us see the same way. It’s more important to achieve the right state of mind than to find the perfect angle.

Rain day

by Carol L. Douglas

by Carol L. Douglas
Rain, I can handle. Wind—in the usual amounts—I can handle. The combination is difficult, since the wind makes an umbrella impossible. Rain makes for gloomy paintings anyway, which one can sometimes recast as moody, but not always.
The organizers of this weekend’s event had given us two days for one painting. So when Saturday was both windy and guttering rain, Brad Marshall and I decided to take pencils to the Met instead. We thought we’d look at Max Beckmann, follow him up with some lighthearted Fragonard frivolity, and then find a bit of Roman statuary to draw. But as Brad held the elevator door, a gentleman turned to him and said, “Did you see the Caravaggisti? Really excellent.”
by Brad Marshall

by Brad Marshall
There really being only one Caravaggio, I’ve never been that interested in his followers. There’s a fine line between emotionalism and being just plain silly. So I was pleasantly surprised at what a fine painter Valentin de Boulogne was.
I found myself in a group of three ladies querying me about Judith and Holofernes. (Brad had neatly sidestepped.) “How do you know this stuff?” one finally asked.
by Brad Marshall

by Brad Marshall
“I’m an evangelical Christian. We learn this stuff,” I answered. But regardless of faith, these stories are a powerful part of our cultural legacy, since the books of the Bible are the greatest collection of literature surviving from antiquity. There was a time when everyone learned them, and they learned them predominantly through paintings. As Brad said later, “I know them from Art History.”
Valentin also turned out innumerable morality paintings, as per his time. All those fortune-tellers-with-soldiers put me in the mood to draw armor, so we made our way to that Hall. Since there were no benches, I asked a security guard if we could sit on the floor.
by Brad Marshall

by Brad Marshall
“Absolutely impermissible,” he sniffed, in the refined tones of a descendent of ten generations of Norman knights. “Not allowed… Still, if you promise to not tell my supervisor that I allowed it, go ahead.” Later, he walked by again and muttered, “Impermissible,” at me. He would have his little joke.
by Brad Marshall

by Brad Marshall
So we drew horses and armor, Brad sketching away lightheartedly and me fuming and cursing and complaining that I didn’t understand how the mannequins were seated.
“Stop drawing what you know and start drawing what you see,” Brad said, and it was, of course, good advice. I was rather surprised at the stature of these warhorses. In my mind’s eye, I’d seen them towering like modern-day Friesians. Instead, if the armor is any indication, they were about the size of my old quarter horse.
Suddenly it was 7 PM and time for us to head back, since Sunday promised to be a long day. We picked up a pizza as we exited the subway. That made it a perfect New York evening.

If you haven’t got anything nice to say…

By now, I assume you’ve seen the video, above, of the art student who lost her temper at her classmate’s inane and snarky critique. Although she has been characterized as unstable and over-the-top, I feel her pain. Nasty criticism is everywhere, and, sadly, young artists often lead the pack.

I remember the first time my work was reviewed for publication. The writer—a successful, middle-aged gallery director—was snarky and destructive. I felt it keenly. 

Conversion on the way to Damascus, Caravaggio, 1600-1. This was the moment when Paul stopped being rigid, inflexible, discontented and critical. For most of us, however, it’s a far more gradual process.
This past Sunday, Pastor James Laughlin talked about the characteristics of St. Paul that made him such a formidable evangelist. It occurred to me that they were applicable to teaching and criticism as well.
St. Paul, Georges de la Tour, 1615
Paul comes down to us as one of the most influential people of antiquity, and certainly the most important figure of the Apostolic Age. That’s pretty amazing considering that after he gave up his Pharisaical career, he spent the rest of his life as a peripatetic tent-maker, preacher, prisoner, and letter writer.
St. Paul in Prison, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1627
Philippians 4:10-20 reveals a writer who was affirming, content, flexible and confident. He exhorts his friends in Philippi, he talks freely of his own challenges, but he’s always optimistic.
His success as an evangelist ought to encourage us to imitate him as critics and teachers. And yet so often teaching and criticism takes exactly the opposite approach—it demeans.

People are capable of wonderful things, but our society routinely discourages people from daring to be great. When someone disregards all the voices telling them they can’t do something, and they challenge themselves with hard work and dedication, they ought to be encouraged.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

The Greatest Painter Who Never Lived

The Facts of Life, Norman Rockwell

It’s a sad fact that in the United States one can defame the reputation of a dead person with impunity and his or her loved ones and heirs can do nothing to stop it. Such is the case with Deborah Solomon’s American Mirror: the Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, which characterizes Rockwell as a complex, depressed, repressed gay man whose repression led to pedophiliac urges expressed in his paintings.

A Scout is Helpful, 1941, Norman Rockwell
A nice person—one not looking for duplicity everywhere—would agree with Rockwell’s granddaughter’s assessment: “My grandfather was a charming, kind, generous man; his models, without exception, say that posing for him was one of the highlights of their lives. He had a marvelous sense of humor, was a remarkable observer of people and human behavior…” 
Rockwell was a fantastically successful illustrator because his ear was perfectly tuned to the 20th century zeitgeist, which celebrated work, home, family and children. Of course, Deborah Solomon is in perfect tune with the zeitgeist of our times, which holds that there is nothing good in this world. Nor is there any privacy, apparently. 
The Babysitter, 1927, Norman Rockwell
Abigail Rockwell has done an excellent job of debunking Solomon’s sources, but she gets little traction in modern media, because she—unfortunately—is working at cross-purposes to our modern world. We like knowing that others are ‘no better than they should be.’
Rosie the Riveter, 1943, by Norman Rockwell. Of this iconic painting, Solomon said, “You know who else is masturbating? Rosie the Riveter. Women to him [Rockwell] were sexual demons. Over here, the riveting-gun penis on her lap, and in the background these pulsating red waves. Even though she’s a worker she’s not working, she’s just eating and satisfying her desires.”
But why is it being gay is so frequently the ‘secret sin’ of which artists are accused? (For a start, see Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and Leonardo Da Vinci; never mind that their culture cannot be transcribed literally into our culture.) And why did a publisher like Farrar, Straus and Giroux publish an outrageous, unsubstantiated claim of a putative link between homosexuality and pedophilia? If that had come from the Right, the howling would have been deafening.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.