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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Art of Sleeplessness

Our sleep cycle was destroyed by gas lighting and factory night-shifts. How do we get it back?
Arkwright's Cotton Mills by Night, c. 1782, Joseph Wright of Derby, courtesy Wikiart.
As we close in on the winter solstice, dusk falls at a little after 3 PM here. My ancestors would have crawled into bed early and slept long. Instead, I click on the lights and continue to work or play with my phone until 10 PM.

Looking out my nephew’s bedroom window on Thanksgiving night, I noticed that it wasn’t truly dark. The sky was a lovely phthalo blue, with a band of light at the horizon. That was Washington, DC, 65 miles away.

Meanwhile, we suffer an international epidemic of insomnia. How did we get here, and how do we get back? According to the World Health Organization, two-thirds of adults in developed nations aren’t getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night. There has been a global rise in sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. In Japan, the average time spent asleep is just 6 hours and 22 minutes. It isn’t much better here, where we average 6.8 hours of sleep a night—down significantly over the last century. Since sleep deprivation is linked to a host of diseases from cancer to obesity to heart attacks to cognitive difficulties, that’s a very bad trend.

Joseph Wright of Derby was a painter of the early Industrial Revolution. He loved nocturnes and dramatic candlelit scenes, and he’s been called “the first professional painter to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution.” Wright also painted one of the first visual records of round-the-clock manufacturing with Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night, above. Sir Richard Arkwright, the owner, was Wright's friend and patron.
Arkwright's Cotton Mills by Day, date unknown, Joseph Wright of Derby, courtesy Derby Museum and Art Gallery
Arkwright is credited with developing the modern factory system, combining a power source, machinery, semi-skilled labor and cotton fiber to create mass-produced yarn. He started life as the son of a tailor. Unable to go to school, Arkwright learned to read and write from a cousin. He was apprenticed and then set up shop as a barber and wigmaker in the early 1760s. There he invented a waterproof dye for the trendy periwigs of the time. The income from this would fund his industrial expansion.

Arkwright helped develop carding and spinning machinery (the next phase after the early spinning jenny), but it was his development of 24-hour factory mills that made him rich.
Willersley Castle, date unknown, by Joseph Wright of Derby, courtesy Derby Museum and Art Gallery. This is the home that Sir William Arkwright built on his manufacturing success.
As his mills expanded, it became apparent that the local community couldn’t provide enough labor. Arkwright brought in workers and built them cottages and a public house. Work was organized in two 13-hour shifts per day. The factory gates closed precisely an hour after the first bell was rung. Latecomers were shut out and lost a day’s wages. Whole families were employed, including children as young as seven. Employees received a week’s vacation a year, provided that they didn’t leave town. Arkwright made a fortune and received a knighthood for developing this system, which, ironically, destroyed the same social fluidity that enabled him to escape poverty.
The Bridge Nocturne aka Nocturne Queensboro Bridge, 1910, J. Alden Weir, courtesy Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It’s beautiful, but is it healthy?
The Industrial Revolution was the root of our modern insomnia, claims Jonathan Crary in 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Before then, the midnight oil (literally) was an indulgence of the upper classes. Then came gaslight and Mr. Arkwright’s 24-hour mill, and out went regular sleep.

Like many American families, we’ve invited the 24-hour mill into our cottage. There is a bank of monitors in my husband’s office, because he’s a telecommuter. He’s often there at 10 PM finishing up work.
Winter, Midnight, 1894, Childe Hassam, courtesy Columbus Museum of Art
It’s not just work that murders sleep. Netflix’ CEO Reed Hastings famously said that sleep is the company’s biggest competitor. “You know, think about it, when you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night.

“We’re competing with sleep, on the margin. And so, it’s a very large pool of time.”

Monday, December 9, 2019

Monday Morning Art School: what I learned from losing 50 pounds

I rapidly gained a hundred pounds after my first cancer in 1999. It’s taken me this long to get serious about getting rid of it. As I reach my halfway goal, I realize that much of the discipline of losing weight is the same as the discipline of learning to paint and draw.
Peppers, by Carol L. Douglas
Being self-taught has its limits
After each of my pregnancies, I used Weight Watchers and exercise and bounced back. That didn’t work with my post-cancer weight. I tried many diets without success. The only solution the medical establishment offered was bariatric surgery. I’d seen too many mixed results to consider it.

I switched PCPs, and my new nurse-practitioner had a different idea. “Try this,” he said, and handed me a book. I’d have dismissed the plan as unsound had it not come from a medical professional.

When I first took classes at the Art Students League, Cornelia Foss looked at my work and said, “If it were 1950, I’d say ‘brava,’ but it’s not.” I’d still be painting derivatively today if it weren’t for her. Sometimes, a trained guide is necessary.

Dish of butter, by Carol L. Douglas
It takes longer than you ever believed possible
My weight loss seemed fast in the beginning. Now, it’s much slower, but it is still there. The same thing happens when you start to paint. Many people quit dieting when it gets tough, and they quit painting then, too. The secret of success is to maintain your discipline through these parched times, because that’s when you’re making real improvement. If it’s going to be meaningful, change is incremental.

Weight Watchers works for millions of people because it registers these incremental changes and encourages you through them. Painting teachers do the same thing. However, if you quit, you’ll make no progress at all. I started this diet in February; I thought I’d be down a hundred pounds now. I’m not, but I wouldn’t have lost a single pound had I not done it. While I didn't meet my self-imposed goal, the last nine months have not been wasted in self-recrimination, either. 

Home made wine, by Carol L. Douglas
Chaos is not helpful
I realized that my travel schedule had stalled my weight loss, despite my faithfulness to the plan. Then I started to look at my painting in the same light. All these road miles were not helping my painting, either. There’s tremendous value in travel, both as a painter and a person, but months on the road are corrosive. Most improvement is going to happen in your own studio.

Acrylic paints, by Carol L. Douglas
The method isn’t the issue
The method I’ve used to lose this weight is Haylie Pomroy’s Fast Metabolism Diet. It isn’t for everyone. But I’ve come to believe that the method is far less important than your own self-discipline.

The same is true in painting. There is no inherent superiority to alla prima oil painting, although it’s what I practice. One can paint beautifully indirectly in oils, or in acrylic, gouache, or pastel. Mastery comes from within, not from the pigment.

There’s a spiritual element
I believe that God loves me and wants me to be happy, so I can work through the lean times without losing my courage. I can afford to take risks and be intrepid. That’s true in dieting, in painting, and in my business model. If you lack courage, you need to take a long, hard look at why that is.
Toy monkey, by Carol L. Douglas
Ultimately, it’s all about you
I have a friend who’s unsure how she can embrace a radical diet when so much of her family life revolves around food. Likewise, I have friends whose family commitments mean they have to cut back on their painting time. I have lived both those realities, and I am not downplaying them.

But in the end, it’s all about you. Families are remarkably resilient when they realize how much it means to you to succeed. If you’re conflicted about whether your art or your diet are ‘worth it,’ that conflict will spill over to your home and play itself out in your relationships.

My own children survived my tofu lasagna, and holiday dinners with nudes on the walls. They grew up with a working mother in a working studio, and they’re accomplished, good citizens. There’s no reason to sacrifice yourself on an altar of ‘how things should be’ or listen to your own self-destructive thoughts. Yes, you can do this.

Friday, December 6, 2019

An insult to working artists everywhere

Wealth inequality leads to this kind of art circus.
Comedian, 2019, Maurizio Cattelan, photo courtesy Sarah Cascone
These stories come around periodically, and I remind myself to not rise to the bait. But here we go again: a banana taped to a wall by Italian artist-provocateur Maurizio Cattelan has sold—not once, but twice—for $120,000. By the time the second iteration sold, Cattelan and his dealer had been on the phone together and decided to raise the price on the third and final iteration to $150,000. Two museums were interested.

Maurizio Cattelan is famous for two other highly-conceptual pieces: The Ninth Hour, which depicted Pope John Paul being struck by a meteorite, and an 18-karat-gold functional toilet entitled America, which was recently stolen from Blenheim Castle. (Since it contained $4 million in gold and the reward was a paltry $124,000, it was probably melted down.)
America, 2016, Maurizio Cattelan, photo courtesy Stu Spivack
Meanwhile, the majority of working artists worldwide will struggle to make $120,000 through art sales in their entire careers. In a way, that’s the equivalent of comparing my son’s music earnings to Taylor Swift’s, but the analogy breaks down there. Taylor Swift produces an actual product that is consumed by many millions of fans every year. Cattalan duct-taped a 25-cent banana to a wall. Actually, he didn’t. The taping was done by a gallerist, and they have a spare on hand in case the original gets moldy. The artist told Artnet that although he isn’t there, the shape of the fruit, the angle it was taped to the wall and its placement in the booth were all “carefully considered.”

We are told there’s great concept underlying this banana. “Wherever I was traveling I had this banana on the wall. I couldn’t figure out how to finish it,” Cattelan told Artnet writer Sarah Cascone. “In the end, one day I woke up and I said “the banana is supposed to be a banana.”

“When we started to work together, I had to fight to convince collectors one by one to buy his work,” dealer Emmanuel Perrotin told Cascone. In other words, this is a triumph of salesmanship, not art.

Most importantly, the bananas come with the artists’ certificate of authenticity, which may be the real work of art here. Without it, you have, er, a banana. “A work like that,” said Perrotin, “if you don’t sell the work, it’s not a work of art.”

La Nona Ora (the Ninth Hour), 1999, Maurizio Cattelan, courtesy Paul Nyzam
Meanwhile, Marketwatch blames this on wealth inequality:

“[T]he latest global art market report from Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions shows the time is ripe for such headline-making art sales. People are spending more money on high-end paintings, sculptures and other works, and the report notes that ultrahigh net worth individuals collectively hold $1.74 trillion in art and collectibles…

“That’s thanks in part to the rise of Chinese art investors; China has accounted for a third of the art market’s global growth. But the authors also suggest that the rising art prices on the top end reflect widening wealth inequality; America’s 1% hasn’t had this much wealth since just before the Great Depression, even as millions of people live paycheck to paycheck.”

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Busman’s holiday

What does a gallerist do on a snow-day? Hang my show, of course.
Dancing Santa, by Carol L. Douglas
Maine Gallery Guide ran this feature about my upcoming studio Open House yesterday. If you like the Maine scene (especially if you live away), you really should subscribe to their newsletter. It’s the single best resource for our state’s art scene. Here’s a link to the sign-up page.

Meanwhile, my husband is fretting about the boxes and bags of stuff littering our house. “You’ve bought at least three times what you need,” he frets. Parties are where my inner Italian, usually tamped firmly down, comes into play. What’s worth doing, is worth doing to excess, I tell myself—and I buy more.
Part of the mess in my dining room.
No shindig is complete without the last-minute household disaster, and ours came in the form of a cracked chimney tile. This created the opportunity to move our woodstove from the kitchen to the dining room, where it has some chance of actually heating the house. We got the bad news two weeks ago and worked fast. Our mason opened the dining room wall last Monday, only to find a copper water line. All work stopped while we looked for a heating specialist to move the pipe.

Luckily, a young friend is coming to do the job on Sunday. Meanwhile, we have a hole in the dining room wall, and the rest of the room is a shambles. Whatever you do, don’t use our back stairs. The contents of our china cabinet are lined up on its treads. That staircase’s primary function is as a laundry chute, so we’re on pins and needles. If we forget, we’ll shatter a lifetime of useless collecting in a single moment.

And more mess. I bought the wine totally for its name.
Yesterday the storm that’s plagued the northeast this week finally showed up in mid-coast Maine. With so few people out, Sandy Quang left work early and stopped here to collect her mail. The poor young gallerist was about to enjoy a busman’s holiday. She spent the afternoon and evening helping me hang my work. She’s much better at it than me, and she has the additional advantage of a fresh eye. By the time we finished, the snow had stopped. It was a beautiful night, the moon shining dimly through the clearing clouds.

Even though the studio is a mess, I took a video of it for Bobbi Heath. “Are you posting that on Instagram?” she asked. No; it’s a mess, and I’m not very good at video. “People love to see the sausage being made,” she countered. She’s right; the two small videos I posted are being watched. Here’s a link and a link if you are also an avid sausage viewer.

Happy New Year! by Carol L. Douglas
Which brings me to my two resolutions for the new year. First, I’m going to learn to take a decent video. Second, I’m going to master my email list. But I’m always conflicted about email.

Yesterday I timed how many emails I was deleting. It was about 15 an hour, all asking me to donate money or to shop. That didn’t include the ones that ended up in my spam folder, which I watch carefully—Bruce McMillan’s very fine Postcard of the Day was landing there for a while.

You can meet the original of my 4-H Christmas Angel on Saturday. She's presiding over my tree, as she does every year.
That overload makes me hate the medium. But it’s a necessary evil, I’m afraid, at least until something better comes along.

Meanwhile, I hope to see you—in person—at my studio on Saturday. Here are the details, as if you could possibly forget them:

Carol L. Douglas Studio Open House
Saturday, December 7, 2019
Noon to Five
394 Commercial Street, Rockport

Monday, December 2, 2019

Monday Morning Art School: drawing a globe

Start with the mechanical measurement and work your way down to the details.
All illustrations are by Carol L. Douglas (left) and Sandy P. Quang (right)
By now, the long slog to decorate for the Christmas holidays is in full swing. If you haven’t got your tree up, you’ve at least located the boxes and asked your family to help you carry them down from the attic. (Good luck with that, by the way.) Find a simple, round, reflective ornament. That’s your subject for today.

Those of you who don’t believe in Santa Claus or haven't found the ornaments yet can find a spherical object to substitute. A ball or a snow-globe will work just fine.
The ornaments in question.
Some of you might know Sandy Quang; she was my painting student in Rochester. She went on to get a BFA from Pratt and an MFA from Hunter and now works at Maine Media Workshops and Camden Falls Gallery. And, she just enrolled in an MBA program at University of Maine. The girl never sleeps.

I asked her if she wanted to draw with me. As my students do, she had her sketchbook tucked in her backpack. “Which one do you want?” I asked her. She chose the spider ornament.

Noting the axes.
Recently, I wrote about drawing a glass dish, which is a series of ellipses on a central axis. A circle is easier to draw than an ellipse; it’s an ellipse that is symmetrical on all sides. A sphere appears to be a circle when it’s viewed in two dimensions. This is an unbreakable rule.

We both added details. Mine were the ellipses on the collar of the ornament; Sandy's were the beaded legs of the spider and her first markings for reflections.
Both of us started with the axis of our drawing. For me, that was the vertical axis; for Sandy it was the axis holding her circles together. I mention this because when people say “I can’t draw!” they seldom realize how much of drawing is mechanical, simple measurement. It's best to learn this from life, since the measurement has already been done for you when you work from a photo. You can easily work back from life drawing to working with pictures, but it's harder to go the other way.

Next, we both put the appendages on our spheres. For me, that meant measuring the ellipses in the collar, as I demonstrated in detail in an earlier post. For Sandy, it was the beaded spider legs. Sandy was starting to note the overall areas of reflection in her spheres.

Marking out the outlines of our reflected shapes.
Sandy and I chose different approaches in the next step, dictated by the paper we were working on. Because I had a smooth Bristol, I was able to blend my pencil line into smooth darks with my finger. Sandy could only work light-to-dark on the rougher paper she was carrying. That gives you the chance to see two different approaches to shading.
We both worked on shading next. I finished my shading with an eraser, Sandy couldn't do that because her paper was too rough.
Sandy has a shadow under her final drawing because the ornament was sitting directly on my coffee table. I put the reflection of myself drawing in my ornament.

All drawing rests on accurate observation and measurement. Get that right and the shading and mark-making is simple.

This post originally ran in December, 2017. It’s been edited.