All images © Carol L. Douglas, Rochester, NY.
No reproduction or reuse permitted without
express consent of the artist.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Shell game

The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1563
From: "Hunter College Art & Art History Department"
Date: May 21, 2015 at 2:33:12 PM EDT

To: undisclosed-recipients:

Subject: Course Updates: Renaissance Art and Art of Africa

Dear all,

Unfortunately "Renaissance Art I" has been cancelled.  If you are one of those preregistered for this course, please get in touch with me asap so that we can find you a replacement.

And on a more positive note: the "Art of Africa" course will be taught by Dr. Gary van Wyk.  Please see the description, below.  Again, email if you would like to enroll in this course.

St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria, Giovanni Bellini, 1504-07
That note was received yesterday by a Hunter College MA candidate in Art History. Whatever the relative merits of African vs. Renaissance art, the latter is fundamental, not just for art historians, but for literate citizens of the western world in general.

The School of Athens, Raphael, 1510
This gap is not just about a class: if there is no Renaissance painting class being offered at the graduate school, there is nobody to advise a student in writing his or her thesis. That means Renaissance painting is effectively off the table as a concentration. In turn, that student is at a disadvantage in seeking work focusing on Renaissance art.

“The course will explore post-colonial and postmodern positions on Africa in the art world, with special focus on the School of Dakar and the Negritude movement (Senegal), the Nsukka School (Nigeria), and the Resistance Art Movement in South Africa,” reads the course description for Dr. van Wyk’s class. “The course will consider contemporary artistic and curatorial practices that re-frame Africanity in today’s global context, including the current Venice Biennale, curated by Okwui Enwezor.”

 In Manhattan’s art world, Renaissance art dwarfs any contemporary African collections. Hunter is setting its students up for irrelevancy in the very job market in which it is located, which is also the most important art market in this country. 

But there is another problem here, common to public universities. Required classes are often not available, leading kids to take longer to finish degrees.

The Ghent Altarpiece, Jan van Eyck, c. 1432
While about 80 percent of undergraduates earning degrees at private colleges and universities finish within four years, at public institutions the rate drops to 50 percent.

That can make a public school education less of a good deal compared to private colleges. Not only must the student shell out more tuition than originally anticipated, he or she loses a year of earnings in the bargain.

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter, Pietro Perugino, 1481
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.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Redeeming the day

East Main Street, Rochester.(Photo by Douglas Perot)
It’s just ten days until my move to Maine, and it’s a pretty ragged time. The Volunteers of America truck will be here tomorrow, my house looks like the aftermath of urban rioting, and I figure I’m about three weeks behind on my to-do list. Everything, in short, has been going as well as can be expected.

Rochester, struggling? Yeah, that's one reason. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ramos.)
Then a series of cascading events hit yesterday:
  • My Prius was hit by a flying traffic cone, shattering the front bumper;
  • Our Civic needed $500 worth of brake work to pass inspection;
  • I dropped my mobile and shattered the screen;
  • An hour after the Civic got new brakes, it blew its muffler.

Rochester. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ramos.)
Of course, all these things needed attention before I leave town. The only solution was to throw money at the cars, but after dropping a thousand dollars on them, I wasn't keen to spend more on a new phone.

I’ve enjoyed my weeks of packing and sorting, oddly enough, and didn’t want my good mood to fizzle. “Lord, don’t let this steal my enjoyment of this day,” I prayed.

Rochester. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ramos.)
I called Verizon; they wanted $180 to fix the screen. A used replacement was about $200, only marginally less than a new one. We watched a Youtube video on fixing it ourselves, but the replacement parts were $33 plus tax with two-day shipping, and when and how I'd do it remained up in the air.

Just to tell myself I'd checked off every option, I called an independent repair shop. Run by two nice young men, the Wireless Wizard fixed my screen for $70 including tax. The young man who helped me told me he'd worked at Rochester General Hospital before he and his brother rehabbed their first office space on East Main Street two years ago and opened for business. They moved across the street two months ago, and have just added a nail salon next door to their shop.

Once a star in Rochester's firmament, East High now graduates about 39% of its students. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ramos.)
My last studio was almost across the street from their shop, so I know the neighborhood well. There are parts of Main Street that are almost genteel, but that block is struggling. Any new enterprise that moves in is a triumph of hope over experience.

At N. Winton Village, East Main becomes almost genteel. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ramos.)
Seeing a new business succeeding in Rochester cheered me up a great deal. Having my phone fixed at a decent price cheered me up even more. The day was redeemed.

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.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Enough is enough

Dinghy, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas.
A man was fishing in a small boat, not particularly doing much of anything, when one of those bumptious, officious ‘self-made man’ types wandered over to give him some advice. 

“Yanno, if you put a little effort into it, you might catch something. Get yourself a sonar fish finder and an engine for that boat, and you might actually find some fish.”

“Why would I want to do that?” asked the fisherman.

“Well, this here’s great fishing country. I bet you could set up shop as a guide, take people fishing, maybe get a fleet of boats, take lots of people fishing.”

“Why would I want to do that?” asked the fisherman.

“To make money!” yelled the exasperated man.

“And why would I want to do that?” asked the fisherman.

“So you can retire and have time to fish!”

M. is a returning student for my Sea & Sky workshop, so of course I have a vested interest in her being rested, healthy and happy by August. Sunday, she reported: “I sold one of the looms (to finish paying off the winter fuel bill for one of the apartments) and put a second coat of primer on the dormer windows on the back side of our house while my husband mowed yards. How many years till I can retire?”

Getting out of a similar grind has been my goal for several years. I find my acquisitiveness waning. I noticed it while house-hunting in Maine, when I was content to look at properties and say, “That would make a great project… for someone else.”

Sign of the times.
If you’ve never visited a Whole Foods Market, they’re a temple to pampered dissatisfaction. I’m hardly the only person to notice this; there’s an internet meme, “Overheard in Whole Foods/Waitrose.” In a way, these stores are our culture’s temple. They sell necessities totally divorced from need.  Their customers may be the punchline to a joke, but they’re really just an extreme example of a malaise we’re all prone to.

Yesterday a friend asked me how I was coping with packing. My first reaction was an old campfire song:  “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart…” And then I actually apologized for being happy. It runs against the grain in our society to admit that things are pretty good. We caution against tempting fate.

The Harbormaster's Dinghy, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas.
Yes we all suffer, and I don’t mean to make light of that. But the things from which we suffer—illness, death, uncertainty—are eternal verities, and even they have been pushed back by science.

If I suggest to people that they count their blessings, they usually start and end with their loved ones.  For some reason, our material blessings—our nice houses, cars, and bank accounts—aren’t generally included. But we are rich beyond most people’s wildest imaginings. We have more than any other people in the history of the world, and still we’re unhappy.

I admire beautiful things as much as the next person; I just no longer covet them.
Like many bad behaviors, this is both sinful and self-destructive. It’s sinful because it denies God the proper credit for our blessings. It’s self-destructive because it robs us of joy.

We really could spend less time building and more time enjoying what we’ve already built.

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.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Check out my new website

Go ahead, look at it. It will be fun.
I have needed to update my website for several years. The minion who built my last one grew up and got married. Finding a capable, willing replacement has been tough.

But here it is, and I’d appreciate your finding lots of little things for me to fix. That way, I’ll be so facile at updating it that I will never let it get out-of-date again.

After this year's auction, I'll add a page of painted buoys. Just because.
The problem with living in a household of programmers is that it’s generally easier for them to do it themselves rather than teach you. They spurn graphics-based software, and they frequently lapse  into acronyms.

I’m a retired graphic designer, and I’ve always been good with computers. But I was routinely pipped at the post, mostly by the size and complexity of the project.
If I'd had more time, I'd have included more images of painting with friends.
I can write, I can paint, and I can design, but I can't do them all simultaneously. Forget multitasking; I get hopelessly confused. Add to that years of incremental changes, and it’s more than I can handle.

For example, I have more than 3,000 painting and blog images online. They started in another blog platformed, jumped to Picasa, and have been rolled into Google+. It’s no longer simple to sort them. My links are a swaying footbridge that I barely trust.

My programmer family believes this is all the information anyone needs to design a website. Turns out they're right.
There are a few other things I need to fix. Not all the pages on this new site are scalable to all devices. And I still haven’t figured out how to make my blog feed on the home page stay neatly in a little box. But overall, it's a lot better. I hope you enjoy it.

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.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Painting in Paradise


My painting of the Dyce Head Light from last year.
Because I can count on my fingers, I was distressed to read that artist Bobbi Heath is going to be on crutches for the next eight weeks. That brings us perilously close to Castine Plein Air, where she and 40 other fantastic artists (including me) will be painting from July 23 to 25.

This is the third annual Castine Plein Air Festival, and in that short time, it’s shot to the top of my favorites list, right up there with the Rye Art Center’s Painters on Location. It’s not just because my friends are going to be there, although that’s certainly part of it.

Me, painting at Oakum Bay (Courtesy of Castine Arts Association)
Castine sits at a commanding position at the mouth of the Penobscot River estuary. In the age of the fur trade, it controlled about 8000 square miles of prime hunting land. It was occupied by the Penobscot people, and its age of exploration opened with a visit by the Portuguese explorer Estêvão Gomes in 1524. He was followed by our old friend Samuel de Champlain in 1605. In 1669, the Mohawk raided.

Mary Byrom, painting at Wadsworth Cove. Life's a beach. (Courtesy of Castine Arts Association) 
No town with that kind of reach was going to be allowed to sit unmolested, and at some point, the French, Dutch, English and Americans all had their hands in.

I mention this because the town is absolutely full of historic sites. The town itself is graciously old New England, with clapboard houses skirting down to the water, the Maine Maritime Academy, the Dyce Head Light, and beautiful waterfront views everywhere. There’s even a little beach.

I did this painting of a reenactor's tent at the Castine Historical Society last year.
Very few people wander across Castine by accident. It is unspoiled, but the downside of that is that accommodations are limited. So if this paint-out in an unspoiled landscape appeals to you, you should make reservations now.

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.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A disciplined talent

Along the Na Pali Coast, oil on canvas, 48X72, by Brad Marshall.
I met Brad Marshall on an overpass in Queens many years ago, on the way to a party at the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden in Astoria. The shindig was drowned by torrential rains but we’ve been pals ever since.

Besides being a skilled landscape painter, Brad works in a niche industry unique to New York—he paints those billboards insanely high above the city’s heads. This resulted in his shoes being featured in the New York Times.

Porta Maggiore, Rome, oil on canvas, 42X60, by Brad Marshall.
Perhaps this regular aerial painting gig is what gives him such discipline as a painter. He seldom seems to get bogged down in self-destructive self-criticism. His studio work, which is represented by Fischbach Gallery in Chelsea, is consistent and assured.

Brad also paints en plein air. He once memorably called the total loss of focus that happens to all of us from time to time “flailing around.” Since it’s the bête noire of every plein air painter, it’s a relief to know it can happen even to him.

Isola dei Pescatori, Lago Maggiore, oil on canvas 24x36, by Brad Marshall.
“I want people to enjoy my paintings. When I was younger and saw some incredible painting at a museum by Bierstadt or Church or Sargent or Rembrandt, it gave me an incredible sense of euphoria and transcendence (yes, like a religious experience),” he told me. “I would love to think that one of my paintings could give someone that feeling. 

“But that’s not why I paint, I paint for selfish reasons. I paint because the process is so enriching, absorbing and fun. I don’t paint just because I want a finished painting (though I do want to see the final result). I paint because I love the act of painting.”

I asked Brad to pick out his favorite three paintings. This, Baroque Arch, Rome, 54X36, oil on canvas, is probably mine. The drafting is superlative, the lighting drives a wonderfully measured composition.
To see more of Brads work, visit his website, here.

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.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Last class in Rochester

Nina Koski and Cece Tassone painting in my garden. (Yes, I'm partial to the jungle aesthetic.)
There is no lovelier place than the Genesee Valley. From the six spectacular falls in the Genesee River to the Lake Ontario shore to the old neighborhoods of Rochester to our parks and arboretums, our area shines in May. So where did I decide to teach my last class? In my front garden, of course, coming full circle around to the place where I first declared myself a teacher.

Me, Nina and Carol Thiel painting in my front garden.
When my friend Catherine suggested that I hold painting classes, I was skeptical. I’m not credentialed in education, and my teaching experience was limited to Sunday school. But I rapidly realized that I could, in fact, teach.

What teaching teaches you is that your method can be divided and described as a process. I really didn’t realize how much I knew about painting until I taught it, year in and year out.

Brad Van Auken and Aaron Boucher painting in my front garden while Carol takes a break in the shade.
Still, a lot of people can paint well and even describe their process. However, not all of them care whether others reach their full potential. That’s the basic difference between someone who should be teaching and someone who shouldn’t.

Victoria Brzustowicz and Teressa Ramos listening to my blather.
My husband plays with an Eastman-trained musician, Pastor Debra Parris. He once said to me, “she’s got all the talent in the world, but she spends so much time encouraging others to make music.” That’s a fine legacy and something to aspire to.

The solar queen attended and waved regally at us.
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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Time like the tide

Pointe du Hoc, Lee Haber, 11x14, oil.
Baby Boomers’ youth was shaped by two galvanizing events that were also polar extremes. We were the children of men and women molded by the last heroic war, World War II. Yet we came of age during the deeply cynical and anti-heroic years of Vietnam.

Last Friday was the 70th anniversary of VE-Day, which marked the end of World War II in Europe. Most of its soldiers have joined the long grey line marching silently into history. Their wives and sweethearts wait out their days in nursing homes.
Omaha Beach #2, Lee Haber, 11x14, oil.
For those of us whose fathers served in the war, this is a stunning realization. We remember our fathers as young men, reminiscing about their wartime experiences. To realize that the better part of a century has elapsed is astonishing.
Remnants, Omaha Beach, Lee Haber, 16x20, oil.
Earlier this year, painter Lee Haber visited France, including the beaches where Allied troops mounted the vast D-Day assault on the German Atlantic Wall defenses. Casualties were heavy on both sides: of 156,000 Allied troops, there were at least 10,000 casualties.

“I grew up during the war and realize the actions that very young men—boys, really—were compelled to do,” he told me. “I consider myself a bit of a World War II historian, and can hardly imagine the horror, the pain, the hurt.”
Omaha Beach, Normandy, Lee Haber, 12x16, oil.
I’m glad that Lee is painting what is there now, rather than trying to reconstruct the assault itself. Instead, the energy in his paintings is suppressed, lying within the sea and sky. In this work, time, like the tides, eventually washes away all human endeavors, worries, and losses.

You can visit Lee’s website here.

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.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Rescuing failure

Ellwanger-Berry Garden, 12X16, oils. This almost got scraped out; it's ended up being one of my favorite paintings.
There’s a view outside my house that has defeated me. It is a sycamore set against a curving street. It’s elegant, architectural, and should be easy enough to paint. But I’ve yet to realize it in a plein air painting.

If you fail at something, hooray! That means you’re pushing past what you know. You’re on your way to your next discovery. You’re breaking limits. Each failed painting, ironically, puts you one step closer to success.

Safe Harbor, 16X20, oil on canvasboard. Sometimes you have to paint something repeatedly before you get it right.
It’s a good thing that failure is such a positive thing, since I do it so frequently.

Occasionally, when a painting is past salvaging, I scrape it out and accept my failure. But if it’s not completely terrible, I save it, set it aside, and go back and look at it later. Sometimes I have found that some good paintings completely eluded me at the time I did them. But regardless, when it starts to go wrong, I've learned to stop throwing more time, energy, or paint at it.

Failure sucks, but the only way to defeat it is to try again. That doesn’t mean going back to that sycamore and beating it up with a pencil; it means painting again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day after that.

Moorings, 14X18, oil on canvasboard. I didn’t like this when I painted it. Marilyn Feinberg, who was with me, liked it. I’ve come to agree with her. Another set of eyes is always helpful.
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.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Don’t believe half of what you read

The tail end of the anti-Bill demonstration at the bus headquarters.
Yesterday I was driving downtown when I passed a demonstration at the bus headquarters. Union members were protesting the decision to stop busing 9,000 Rochester City School District students on the RTS because troublemakers won’t stop fighting. The move will cost 144 jobs. I get their frustration but I was a little offended by the signs that read, “Fire Bill,” particularly as the graphics alluded to the “Kill Bill” movies.

See, I know Bill. He’s not an abstraction but a real, live human being. I thought for a moment about stopping and telling the protesters what a nice guy he is, but I didn’t think it would change their minds. Anyways, I was headed downtown for the National Day of Prayer, and I was running late.

Listening to prayers on the steps of City Hall.
On Wednesday a teenager was shot while playing basketball at a little park on Fourth Street. That’s right by the Public Market, and I know that park pretty well. My car was once totaled by a stolen vehicle alongside the jungle-gym. It’s absurd that a kid could be shot in a park full of children in broad daylight. If that happened in tony Loudoun County, VA, where our government muckety-mucks raise their families, the uproar would be appalling. But this is urban Rochester and it warranted three sentences on the news.

The closer you are to the city, the more aware you are that it is in trouble and that politics doesn’t seem able to fix much. It’s no surprise that the impulse to pray was led overwhelmingly by the inner-city churches. After all, if you live in Henrietta or Webster, the problems of crime and education are a pity, but a vague one.

Hands stretching in prayer from City Hall to the County Building.
The National Day of Prayer event started with politicians and formal prayers. But the real action happened when citizens formed a human chain reaching from City Hall to the County Building and prayed like mad for the welfare of our community.

At one point I caught myself thinking, “750,000 people in this county, and only several hundred of us came out. What difference can we possibly make?” But in fact we can. Prayer is not the work of our hands, but a plea for a miraculous intervention. The results, basically, have nothing to do with us.

This handsome shofar player is Eugene Henn from Brighton. It was a beautiful thing to hear the shofar ringing off that Medina sandstone.
I ran into Bill’s wife downtown. As we were leaving, I suggested that she take a different route home so she didn't have to see the protesters. “Maybe I should bring them water bottles,” she mused. The answer to the end of urban violence is to bless the ones who curse you, to stop keeping score, but it’s so hard to do. Anyway, they had folded up shop when I drove past a few minutes later. The prayers had outlasted the demonstrators.

A crime map for my fair city for the first four months of 2015. For an up-to-date version, see here.
Meanwhile, while both events were taking place, a woman’s body was found on Hudson Avenue. Just another day in Rochester.

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.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Fine Art of Packing

Texting and falling into a fountain, 6X8, Carol L. Douglas. Artists can justify keeping anything as still life props.
Sometimes God likes to remind me that I’m not superhuman. Like this week, when my work has been limited by asthma. The combination of pollen, dust and exertion has pretty much done me in by early afternoon, and I’m about 20 boxes behind in my packing.

Every American family should pack once a decade. That way we would relentlessly cull our stuff. It would be nicer for our children when we die, for one thing.

Yes, all the weird stuff has to come with me. And much of it requires special handling in packing.
Every studio is full of odd and useful things. In my case, several plaster heads, one blue glass head, a Vaseline glass figurine, several compotes, and a glass bowl full of rocks from Maine. That last one has me baffled; I use those rocks for still lives, but I can’t really see moving them back to Maine.

Paintings and frames are a hassle to pack.
The fine art of packing consists entirely in tossing stuff out until your current house is empty and you fall in love with it again. I’m not a hoarder. I can be relentless with books, with clothes and with furnishings. But there’s still an awful lot of stuff here to go through, and time is slipping through my fingers.

Where there was once order, there are now... boxes.
Meanwhile, I remember what it’s like to paint. Really, I do.

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.