Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Museum donation paperwork

Red Skeltons grave. from

Tonight I am going to write an answer to an inquiry I received today. I will return to the Homer watercolors tomorrow (probably). Below is the question from a reader;

Dear Stape;

Is it common practice when donating to a museum that you sign a contract saying,
"I do hereby irrevocably and unconditionally give and transfer to the museum all right, title, and interest, including all copyright,trademark, and related interests, in and to the following described work of art." ? Should one sign everything over when donating? Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Fastidous Skirtpleater

Mr Skirtpleater;

They will probably accept the gift only if you relinquish all rights to it. They will own it free and clear along with (usually) the right to reproduction. Sometimes that document is called a deed of gift, I believe. I have never given a piece of mine to a museum. I prefer they have none, until they become willing to pay for one like my valued clients.

You will be GIVING them the painting, they will OWN it. You will retain no ownership of any kind. They are also receiving the right to reproduce it, say on postcards or whatever. That is different than an ordinary sale in which you would retain those rights,( unless you offered them as part of the sale ) but no other part of ownership.

However the right which the museum may exercise, that might give you pause, is deaccession. They may never show your painting, and then sell it at a bake sale in a few years, for the price of a hedge trimmers.

Is this a small regional, artist friendly, equal opportunity museum or is it a place that would never dream of showing your art? Perhaps they prefer high ticket 19th century art or cutting edge contemporary. Most museums do.

I wonder why you are doing this? If you have lots of art and can hand off a piece to a museum for free that's great. I can't. I would hope to get something from them in return, maybe they have an upcoming show in which your art might be included. My guess is that you called them and not that they called you. In that case they will reply, not with "Yes, Dear! It will be just perfect for our upcoming show entitled : A trip through Syria with Nathan Bedford Forrest. " but instead with
" Oh no we only receive gifts outright, it is not our policy to exchange any value upon their donation. The board approves any expenditures. However if it does hang in a show, we will try to call you and let you know".

If you are, like me, a traditional painter, the odds of it's being exhibited are small. The level of contempt that artists like myself are held in the museum and academic-curatorial world is extremely elevated at this time, and at all other times of which I am personally aware.

Maybe you read in a book; " Give your art to some museum!" it will build your resume. I have often seen resumes bleating "In the collection of the Syncretism Musuem in La Mirada!" (All roads lead to the Syncretism Museum!) I always think, I never saw their painting at that museum, maybe I missed it, could it have been in one of the other transepts? But maybe regular folks are more impressed. I have seen some real fancy resumes posted near piles of unsold work that seems to me, to be of limited commercial possibilities and showing no particular accomplishment.

I have about 20 pages of stuff I can print out for a C.V., shows, awards, memberships in organizations. When a dealer asks for that, I can bury them in paper! Usually though, no one asks. They can go to my web site and download a bunch of stuff I haven't updated, because the new stuff isn't better.

Few people read resumes or know what any of it means, and most of them that people do see are hideously inflated Macy's Parade balloons driven by snarling demons, dripping deadly toxins and squirming with lies and obfuscations, and the endless, hissing, pumping up of the mundane into elite accomplishment.

You may be thinking, Yes! but I will write off 14,000 dollars on my income taxes on a painting that I made in a weekend using $40.00 of materials!

Talk to your accountant, lawyer, financial adviser or Neighborhood Watch Block Captain about this, Stapleton Kearns gives no legal or tax advice and any advice given here is strictly for entertainment purposes. The opinions given here today, are not necessarily those of tomorrow and may contain one or numerous errors. Again, talk to your accountant, ward heeler, or thoracic surgeon about this, pretends no particular familiarity with the tax code. Stapleton makes no claims about the value, or lack of value, of this, or any other statement made in the blog. Nor will massages be given at night in the hotelrooms, Al.

I think you will find you are only allowed to write off the cost of materials on your taxes. I have heard that this is something that may be changing, and perhaps it has, but in the past an artist was not allowed to deduct the "market value" of their donated art on a tax return. Things change a lot and often I don't know. Things are changing all the time. The past has changed the least.

Again, talk to your group leader, political officer, or court appointed executor about this, and anything else that troubles you or just seems "out of the ordinary".

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More Homer watercolors

images from (link in my sidebar)

I am going to post some watercolors over the next few days. the ones above and below are from an trip to Cullercotes, England. He painted the fishermen's wives rather than their sons as he had in Gloucester years before. The painting above has a nice serpentine "S" flowing through its middle with the figures arrayed along it.

Homer traveled routinely to Florida in his later years, and on to the Bahamas from there. These jungle paintings are from the Florida trips. I think it as little strange to see such a Yankee painter working in Florida, but others did too. Innesss comes to mind.

These are great designs. Homer seemed to be able to knock out those palm trees without much adjustment time. He makes that look as if he had always painted them. Homer could really draw. He had to, being an illustrator working to deadline for twenty years. What great training that must have been.

Notice above how he counterbalances all of those vertical palms with that long horizontal bank at the bottom of the picture.

Homer was very intrigued by the silhouettes of the palms as they stood against the sky. He uses rhythm to capture their movement in the breeze. He has used counterchange in the stem of the palm as it goes from light at the bottom across the little tree and then dark against the sky above.

Tomorrow, on to the Bahamas

Sunday, June 27, 2010

More great Homers and a look at their artistic percursors

images from
In 1883 Homer moves from New York permanently to a studio that famous architect, John Calvin Stevens redesigned from a carriage house, at Prouts Neck, Maine. Homer spent the rest of his life working there and became very reclusive. Here is another collection of important later works.

The painting above "The Gulf Stream" is one of Homers best known. It has several antecedents I would like quickly to point out . They are Gericaults "Raft of the Medusa" a masterpiece in the Louvre. I think that Homer must have had this in mind.

I also think there is some deliberate quotation from Copleys "Watson and the Shark" pictured below. This is one of the paintings that first defined "American Painting" Homer was deliberately American in his art and would have enjoyed the passing reference. Notice the similar pose of the cheerful shark at the lower middle of both paintings.

Here are a couple more seascapes. The winter piece is particularly unusual, and was certainly a scene that Homer found on Prouts Neck.

This seascape presages the work of Fredrick Waugh. Waugh (September 13, 1861 – September 10, 1940) was a generation younger than Homer (February 24, 1836 – September 29, 1910) . Waugh, though American born spent his early career in England. He returned to Americain 1908 only two years before Homers death. Waugh lived for a number of years on Baileys island, just north of Homers studio.

Below is a pieced called "West Wind" it is Japanese influenced and has an ethereal lightness to it that evokes the mist that accompanies heavy surf.

Thats all for tonight folks. I have to sleep sometime. More important Homers tomorrow.

A knife fight in a phonebooth

images from and
Above is a Winslow Homer, and below the William Trost Richards that I posted last night. Below that again is another Homer. I said last night that I thought the Homer was artistically a far greater work of art. I want to go a little deeper into that idea tonight. Let's see if I can wring from it a little insight into what things put a painting in the top echelon and what things might keep it from there. What follows is, of course, only my opinion, but you can trust me, I'm a professional.

The Richards are great painting, and I have studied his seascapes a lot. I love Richards and before you log on to defend him, remember I think his paintings are wonderful. But I think Homer is a greater artist. Here, in my clip are some bullets, (plus one in the chamber) let me see if I can explain why I think that.
  • Great paintings tend to be simple, the detail that is in a painting like this Richards is less poetic than the spare breadth of the Homer. That simplification gives the Homers a magnificence and monumentality that the more complicated Richards lacks.
  • There is something like classicism in the Homers, I don't mean of the doctrinaire sort, but the large simplified masses and lack of small information remind me of Ingres or Raphael in the boiling down of the image to its essentials. There is something in the general that speaks more directly to us than the specific, it is more universal and reads more like memory than observation. That slight avoidance of the literal gives the paintings a slightly otherworldly feeling. We subconsciously react to that as being a different type of vision, the paintings seem less matter of fact. We are seeing in a different more exalted manner, and we are aware of that.
  • The simplicity of Homers handling elevates his pictures too, There is a dignity and a reserve they have, that makes the Richards flashy handling and bright effects seem a little brassy. The Richards seems a little too colored and a little too Kodachrome. Richards painting gains in immediacy, but loses something in long contemplation.
  • Homers designs are spare and have enormous carrying power, they would work as a stamp design or could be "read' from a block away. The more big shapes are chopped up with little marks and detail, the more their carrying power is reduced. His designs are stripped to their essentials and the result is boldness and clarity. It also makes them easy to look at for long periods of time. I think detail in a painting is consumable. We use up the enjoyment of it and the painting becomes less interesting. Great design seems to endure for us to enjoy.
  • Homers color is a little austere and that helps move them into the great category, we all can cite an example of a painter whose color is ridiculously happy and major key, the painting that tries too hard to be liked and gaily appealing. At the other end of this continuum are paintings that don't flash a little skin at you or swish their hips too much.
  • Homers paintings of a wave are iconic, they are every wave, the Richards carefully describes a particular wave. The Richards is smaller in its conception. Ironically, I would guess that Richards knew a lot more about the "hydraulics" of the ocean. His wave anatomy is always understood, his waves are technically better, but technique is second to poetry and the Homers have that to burn. There is a weakness in naturalism, perhaps because we see that way all the time or because it is matter of fact. No great painting could be mistaken for a window. Richards is a journalist. Homer is a poet.
  • Homers designs are unexpected and original, the Richards is a default seascape design, it is a template and he plugged lots of pictures into it. It is a relatively conventional view painted with astonishing skill. The Homers are all unique, they are all different from one another and from everyone else's seascapes too.

  • It is evocation and not description that takes a picture to the level of greatness, the 19th century was full of artists who could render astonishingly well, and who are today forgotten. There was a system for teaching that, which is now lost. I don't mean to dismiss technique, only that it is expected as a tool, but is not in itself the end. Just as having a command of vocabulary and grammar is essential to being a writer, it is more important to have something extraordinary to say.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Homer seascapes

images from and the

In the 1880's Homers family bought up most of Prouts Neck, a point of land near Portsmouth , Maine. Homer turns a carriage house into a studio from which he can always keep an eye on the water. He paints surf paintings, mostly from sketches done on location around Prouts Neck.

Below I have posted a William Trost Richards seascape. Richards was the reigning seascape guy and was churning out these sorts of surf pictures, often they were huge. Richards is naturalistic and shows the anatomy of the waves. Homer is less interested in that, and his paintings are design exercises. What they lose in illustrative quality they gain in simplified monumentality. Although the Richards are wonderful, Homer operates at a higher more poetic level. They may be less of a seascape but they are more art.

Here is a combination of a seascape and one of his more typical narrative pictures.

Notice the big simple rocks in the foreground. This reminds me of Waugh, who was in 1892 just beginning to specialize in seascape. on the island of Sark.

The warm tree trunk in the lower part of the picture is the compliment of the color of the sea and is a foil for all of the restrained and cool, grayed out color in the rest of the piece.

I think the juxtaposition of warm and cool notes in this piece make it a tour de force. I suppose that is just earth colors and black, maybe a shot of Prussian in there. There are tiny figures in the upper left hand corner, I guess to give scale. Those who think that good color means lots of color should observe this painting that has very elegant and sophisticated color, but is not very high in chroma. A lot of "would be" colorists paint everything in bright, unalloyed high saturation, strident color and TOO LOUD! Good color means the beautiful arrangement of colors and not just the degree of chroma.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Homer's, The Wreck

The image is, as so often happens, provided by , an online museum.

This painting tells a story. It tells it from right to left. The main figure holds up a hand to gesture towards the wreck, we see him superimposed upon a crew struggling to get a rescue boat to the shore. All of the darks across the middle of the painting are in an arch of rhythmic shapes. On the left side Homer has driven a "door" through that. Below, I have accented in white, the lines of the carefully designed negative shape against which the procession is silhouetted.

Notice all of the inward flowing "fingers" of negative shape, that cut down into the large arabesque of the boat and toiling men. The negative shapes all point inwards , the waving mans arm is echoed by the stern of the boat, both serpentine inward thrusting shapes. The men on the right, leaning backwards in their effort to draw on their lines, create inward facing shapes that bind them.

This silhouette, or arabesque as it is sometimes called, is varied and interesting. Homer arranged that shape, he didn't copy it from nature or a photograph. He may have had both, taped to his easel. but that big"Chinese dragon" across the middle of the painting is a deliberately invented and designed device. It gives the painting enormous power and decorative arrangement.

One of you wrote in the comments how this was your art lesson with your coffee in the morning. I am glad to hear that, as that is pretty much my intention here, art lessons.
I will return tomorrow with another lesson.

Homer's men at sea

This painting,"The Lookout" is one of Homers best known works. It is an extremely decorative and oriental design and is painted in Earthen reds and gray and black.The color of the sky above the sailors head is a foreboding indigo. The piece has rich darks and hot lights. The austere seriousness of the color scheme is in keeping with the drama of the scene, the color is part of the "concept "of the piece, it is not observed into being, but contrived as part of the overall effect.This is primal and epic subject matter.

Homer must have been thinking of Rembrandt too. Either way it's a masterpiece. It is way beyond being an observed slice of nature, it is a machine that makes us feel a certain way. I often think most complex allegories in painting end up being obscure or unattractive. When the message is so simple it might be a single word like, bravery or courage or endurance I think a picture is more likely to work.

The touch of white off the rail lets us know this is rough weather and this is not a pleasant sail on a summer's day, but a desperate battle against the sea. As I said in a previous post, Gloucester lost 10,000 men at sea in her 350 years as a fishing port. Sometimes storms took whole fleets and hundreds of men into the deep. Whole crews spent entire storms out in the spray, beating the ice from their ship and its lines with axes and sledgehammers to keep the weight of ice from capsizing their them. American commercial fisheries today still lose 115 men out of every 100,000 each year. Fishing is probably the most dangerous occupation even now.

The painting below tells a story;

This paintings oil clad rescue crew are hauling a boat through the dunes to reach the survivors of a wreck at sea. This painting is a great example of the use of negative spaces. I will return and do a post on this ones design as I think it particularly smart.

These sailors are preparing to lower a boat into that maelstrom sea to rescue a doomed boat on the horizon. Most of the fisherman of that age never learned to swim, their attitude was that it would just prolong your suffering. If you went overboard it was best to drown quickly. You would be instantly carried off and lost in a sea like that, rescue of a man in the water was very unlikely. Their heavy boots and oilcloth coats were heavy when full of water anyway, so going over the side meant death in heavy weather.

The schooners carried dories that went out from the ship to set and haul nets, often the task was to encircle a school of fish with the net by rowing a few small boats around it. If a fog bank came in, and you could no longer hear the ships bell. you were lost at sea. That happened routinely.

These fishing subjects provided Homer with a monumental and "important" theme to make art that had a sternness and dramatic weight, making the work of many other artists of the era look like puffery and foolish gaiety.

Below is a doryman alone with a big halibut, rowing back to the schooner. Homer shows an incoming fog bank behind the safety of the ship below. What weird shapes he put into that tortured front, big spiky shapes, one of which hits the rabbet at the top of the picture. What supreme confidence Homer had to put something that strange in, and knowing that it worked, leave it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Homer's sporting art

images from

From the mid 1870's onward Homer begins to paint sporting art, often on trips to the Adirondacks but also in the White Mountains. This was the beginning of an new view in America of the great wilderness that still covered so much of the country. What had only a generation before been viewed as a desert, inhospitable and dangerous, began to be seen as a restorer of the spirit. The rich began building "Adirondack" style cottages in the wilderness and "rusticators began to go to the great woods for recreation. This was the beginning of a movement that championed hunting, fishing and camping as an antidote for the increasingly urban life and builder of moral strength in a society corrupted by being out of touch with the natural world. Our ideas of living in concert with nature rather than stalking its citizens was to develop later.

Homer painted many pictures of the guides and woodsmen who staffed the great woods, he was later , at Prouts Neck, more likely to spend his time in the company of woodsman and fisherman than with the society types who would buy his art.

These pictures are taken from the span of his career and don't comprise a period of his painting but a theme he was to return to over and over for most of his life. Many of the artists of this generation and the next were avid sportsmen, hunters and fisherman. Metcalf, Benson and others spent their vacations hunting ducks and fishing at remote locations, sometimes way up into Canada.

Notice the clean and beautiful color in these watercolors. He makes it look so simple, but an army of later sportsman artists working for a tremendous array of men's magazines featuring sporting themes on their covers, mined these images without ever equaling them. Homers sure design sense takes these pictures to a level above merely sporting illustration.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Snap the Whip

Here, painted in 1872 is one of the pieces which because of its wide distribution as an engraved illustration in Harpers secured Winslow Homer a s the top American artist. This painting is from the same populist sentiment that Mark Twain drew upon in the Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn books only a decade later. Homer, who never married or had children has by this time built a popular career as a presenter of children at play and imitating the tasks they will preform when soon they become adults in Americas working class as fisherman or farmers. With the beginnings of Americas heavy industrialization these children were beginning to be seen as remnants of an endangered society, a growing number of their generation were already working in the mills of the exploding industrial cities. The red schoolhouse was an icon of American culture by that point and the games of the boys were familiar and nostalgic to most of its viewers. This is the first version, the second and smaller version is below.

The second version is much more effective. Homer has removed the mountain, in the "improved version the boy is thrown by the force of the whip out into a distance that really recedes. Its a long way out there. There is also an extraneous boy removed out there on that end of the line. The horizontality of this version vastly increases the speed and force of the boy's snapping whip. The first version has a balance of horizontal and vertical thrust in its design. The lower version sweeps the viewer along its breadth. Homer has also pushed the boys a little further back into his pictorial space and that aids his effect too.

After a generation of "still" transcendental paintings by folks like Lane and Gifford, this painting is just the opposite. It has a raucous and violent action rippling across its middle. The value structure in the second version is also improved, Homer has used darker values behind his figures in order to better pop them out . The lower picture is far more exciting than the first.

Above I have highlighted a Homer design device he was to use repeatedly during his career, lets call it rhyming pairs. See how each pair of two boys have their legs in matched positions. That installs a formal yet subtly hidden geometric rhythm, a visual arpeggio of repeated couplets. I will point this "couplets" device out in some more Homer as we continue.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ask Stape

Dear Stape;

A burning questions I had was regarding “design”. When I attempt to paint a landscape in an unfamiliar place for the first time, I start painting with what I think is a good plan with “soaring” inspiration at the beginning but falls flat midway with no plan B or for that matter much interest in really following thru to completing the painting. What is my problem and how do I fix ?


Arduous Normalcy

I am going to load some bullets and begin by trying to diagnose how you got to be in that position in the first place. When that happens to me (it doesn't) it is because I:
  • hurriedly set up and started to paint without really scoping out the location. I just set up anywhere because I had come to paint and now it was time to do it.
  • allowed some joker to pick the location for me and was too nice to say" I am not happy here".
  • chose a location with no foreground.
  • failing to select what you are there to paint, instead filling the canvas with descriptive detail of everything before you with no particular selectivity or emphasis.
  • Chose the scene because I thought it would be "easy"
  • chose a location that was good in a verbal description but not composed of attractive abstract shapes.
  • didn't ask my self "what is the reason I am painting here? What is it that appeals to ME about this place? Why is it special?".
  • Made a matter of fact, literal description rather than a poetic evocation of the location.
  • tried to paint in the style of another artist or make a kind of picture that I thought was commercial, but about which I personally had no feeling or interest.
  • Didn't design the scene in an intriguing way, so the viewer glanced at the painting rather than being hauled in, beguiled.
  • Failed to design interesting shapes that were different from one another and had varied interesting shapes rather merely an accurate but mundane transcription of the scene.
The solution, besides avoiding all of the errors above.........
is to do thumbnail sketches, at least for a while. Do 2" by 2" sketches in a little sketchbook using a pencil. Each one might take two minutes. The first several will probably average, matter of fact descriptions of the view, what you would get if you just plopped your easel down and painted the "usual" thing . But in the subsequent sketches you will get the treatment that you might have used had you done several picture there. Try to do a few sketches emphasizing different aspects of the view. One might emphasize the trees, another the mountains in the background and another just on part of the view. Spending a little time searching for more interesting ways to view the same scene will often pay off when you get a "take" on a scene that is a little more considered and less obvious.

The world is full of average paintings. It doesn't need any more. You need to look for ways to make each one special.

I will return to the Homer history tomorrow or the next day. I felt this question was to good to ignore. Keeep those questions coming. I can serve you all better if I know what it is you want to learn.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Berry Pickers

I posted this little watercolor the other night and I want to back track a little and pick apart its design a little. I think it very clever and charming, but beneath its subject is an abstract arrangement that is very calculated. Here is some of that.

The young girl in the foreground wearing the ocher colored dress is the fulcrum of the painting. The other children are balanced on either side of her position as a central pylon. Those to the left are placed further away from the fulcrum to counterbalance the more interesting figures on the left. Like on a child's see-saw placing a weight further from the fulcrum will balance a heavier weight placed nearer that pivot point. This picture has formal balance.

The most commanding figure in the picture is the girl leaning back against the rock on the left. The angle at which she leans back is countered by the line implied through the forms of the bush on the right. The two are balanced, like a visual equation. This, of course, didn't just happen, it was installed.

But the thing I liked most about the composition was the pattern of bright whites and black shapes arrayed on a line across the middle of the painting. It begins with reclino girl's white bucket, placed against the dark shape of her skirt. Just to the right of that, the boy with his back to us has a white shirt placed against the black shape of his pants. Fulcrum girl has three white accents the most dominant of which is her collar that Homer has contrived to place against the black notes of the boys pants behind her to achieve maximum contrast. The boys to the right are really just hats sitting on dark accents. This is a device which I have pointed out before and called value stacking. I made that name up because I couldn't find an existing term.

The girl holding the bucket and leaning against the rock is the only figure with a face. She is allowed this because she is the main actor on the stage. The ribbon billowing from her hat is a jarring, eye catching shape that makes sure we see her and take notice of that face.

I know that watercolorists like to preserve the white of their paper but this watercolor really harnesses that effect, it has a bit of what is sometimes called the glare aesthetic. That is the lighter colored items are "blown out" by the light. The big rock on the left and the white accents I mentioned above are all pushed to a high key that is as white as the paper. That gives a sparkling, sun blasted look that is typical of the coastal moors along the north shore above Boston. It is also major key and all of that contrast gives a joyous, weightless look to this happy painting of children. Homers design and value scheme carry the feeling of the painting more than its subject matter.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Breezing Up

There it is..... A masterpiece of American painting, Breezing up.This was a result of the Gloucester trip.By this time Homer was ensconced in the fabled 10th st. studio. That keeps popping up in my histories here is a link to a previous entry on that

Returning from the Gloucester trip with this watercolor......

Homer laboriously works it up into "Breezing Up". The painting was a sensation and was heavily reproduced, receiving enormous critical acclaim.

This is a roughly painted picture, very simply made, most of it is a modulated brown underpainting. It is not a technical tour de force. But that is in keeping with its subject. Gloucester is gritty and working class. Had this picture been painted like a Bouguereau it would have failed.


The design shows Homer's study of Japanese prints and its asymmetrical composition is different than most of the American art before it. Leaning that boat (the subject) out of the left hand side of the painting is daring and oriental.

I have to teach a workshop tomorrow morning,, I am typing this in an antique hotel up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, so I will elaborate more tomorrow.