Anchors aweigh, or, what floats your boat?


Behind our bed is a carved and painted screen depicting a Japanese pavilion on the shores of a golden lake. All is still and ripple-less save for the bow wave of a light bark coming back to shore from an excursion out upon the stillness. Women in kimonos promenade on boardwalks linking a pavilion to another place off-screen. There is a gentle breeze making the supple branches of a lone tree sway. My wife picked it up in a flea market and it enchants me. It is relaxing not only because of the subject but because the execution doesn’t concern me. Occasionally I wonder about the quality of the work i.e. should I like this? And then I fall back into reverie. Where is that boat coming from anyway? Is it a psychopomp delivering geishas to geisha heaven?

The bed and the raft.

The barge is certainly fashioned for still waters.

I wonder, do artists create bodies of work according to the waters in which they navigate? I think so.

Let’s consider a body of artwork to be a boat on an ocean, usually an urban center, composed of current (ha!) fashions, art magazines, reviews, the place and space the work is made in and then and shown in, any number of other “boats” on the sea at the time and the right of way rules that come into effect, the collector and/ or museum that buys the piece (or doesn’t) . . . and the parties! The boats must obey that particular water’s buoyancy laws or they won’t float.

The author rowing, if not a boat, then a log.

You the artist peer within yourself and then you shape your craft according to your soundings and hand me down plans. A launch day comes. Your crafted craft is splendid and hits the water in style. You set sail and all is perfect. These will be your home waters. Or perhaps these waters are too sweet or too shallow. You head for deeper waters if there is a channel and access to the sea. If not put the boat on a truck. Fitzcarraldo dragged his over a mountain. Lewis and Clark put their canoes on their backs. Once you find seagoing water you can re-launch. And so you get to the sea. Do you cross it or hug the shore? Will anyone come sailing with you or do you have to press some crew? Does your “boat” float there?


Yes? Fine. No? Then you need to modify according to local conditions. Recut the bow and modify your girth. Change hull color and re-christen the boat. What flag do you fly now? But what If we consider urban centers to be like the Dead Sea, in which everything and anything floats, then to what criteria do you modify?

The Floating Neutrinos crossed the Atlantic in this.

I have sailed on a lone log but the boat that makes me float is the raft, especially in the tradition of the Floating Neutrinos and Huck Finn. Ersatz in nature the raft will do on any body of water, its course determined by the wind and currents and futile tugs on a tiller.

Raft Building. You can use the living room floor.
Raft Building. You can use the living room floor.

The raft is a far cry from today’s molded plastic craft that are swamped with risk hedging safety features. They never leave the dock. Who then dares to set to sea in a frail or drunken craft twisted by the artist’s soul and quirkly modified flotsam and jetsam, whose sides undulate with every wave, whose ballast is wine and where bailing is as natural as breathing? You, the artist, that’s who. Let exploration begin onboard!

Let exploration begin onboard.
Let exploration begin onboard.

In this “boat as art” and “sea as the artworld” metaphor it seems to me that “boats” and the “sea” are trading places. The “sea” wants to float and the “boat” to curl like a wave. I have given up looking for the sea. There are so many boats now that the oceans are decked over.

Build a raft and you will be able to float in the nooks and crannies of the hull studded “seas”. To a golden shore you will come, but I can’t promise you geishas.


art world, boats, fitzcarraldo, flying neutrinos, geishas, huck finn, lewis and clark, psycho pomp, rafts, seas, wife



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