When you think of Winslow Homer, views of the sea will likely come to mind. But the Met’s current show of his work makes clear he was a lot more than a maritime painter.

Exhibit notes say that “a persistent fascination with struggle permeates his art.” Hence the show title – “Winslow Homer: Cross Currents.”

Sea of sighs

The museum presents a strong case for viewers to see Homer’s art “through the lens of conflict.” His depictions of the Civil War and Reconstruction tell that story.

But you can also see conflict in the seascapes. (More about that in a moment).

Homer described the effect of the war on the soldiers as well as on former slaves. In that sense, he was America’s Goya, famed for his “Disasters of War” series.

But here’s the thing. Although Homer wrote very little about his aim in art, in the little he did write, it’s all about his zeal for painting outdoors. Not a word about what the Met called his “persistent fascination with struggle.”

Words left unsaid

Historians Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves quoted a letter from Homer in their 1974 book “Artists on Art: from the XIV to the XX Century.”

In 1880, Homer answered a reporter from the Art Journal who asked him for his mission statement. "I prefer every time a picture is composed and painted outdoors."

Homer went on about this saying that much painting done in studios should have been done in the open air.

Indoors, he said, render the art "only half right. You get the composition, but you lose freshness." He was adamant on this point.

"I tell you it is impossible to paint an outdoor figure in a studio light with any degree of certainty." Of course, his view can easily be disputed when you consider Jean-François Millet’s scenes of peasant life.

In the studio

Millet was known to never paint his outdoor scenes outdoors, yet his work was an acknowledged source of inspiration for Van Gogh, Monet, and Seurat.

ArtNet’s review of the Homer show sees him as “an essential portrayer of America’s greatest sins.” The reference was to his pictures of slaves.

Yet not a word from Homer about slavery in his lengthy response to the Art Journal reporter.

As if his entire philosophy of art came down to getting out of the studio in order to get his work to be more than “half right.”

Even so, the Met director Max Hollein spoke to the press about Homer’s interest in the social issues of his day: “Homer not only addressed complex social and political issues, but his work is also about universal concerns: the fragility of human life and the dominance of nature.”

Homer put these issues in his pictures. The featured work of the exhibit is "The Gulf Stream," said to be the artist’s most important painting.

What you see is a solitary Black man in a small mast-less boat on a rough sea surrounded by sharks. Given all the police shootings of Black men in America, you might call this painting a metaphor for the threats they endure.