While humans by nature have a perpetual need for company, we all need to be alone sometimes. No, not the solitude of quarantine or imprisonment, but the solitariness born out of choice and free will. To be able to step back from the noisy crowd is to be free in the real sease of the word. As the following works of art show, there is something beautiful and almost sublime about this freedom.
A crowded beach speaks eloquently of the human condition: the perpetual need for company. People not only congregate there to enjoy sun and sea. They desire to mingle with others and be part of a larger fellowship.
This is why many are whining about the coronavirus lockdowns. To be forced to stay at home is not essentially different from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange withering away in London’s Belmarsh Prison. One is deprived, not only of freedom of movement, but of human companionship.
Man was not designed to be confined indoors. Even convicts are let out into the prison yard to get some sun. What more for the average person? The following paintings by 10 notable artists celebrate the joy of the outdoors, of water and sunlight, and of that natural freedom most people take for granted until they are deprived of it.
People are being bombarded daily with news of the coronavirus pandemic. Many must be tired of the subject. So why would Marine Café Blog share artworks that depict past plagues? First, because they remind us that massive outbreaks of diseases are nothing new. Second, because art can help us deal with our own emotions and sublimate them into some form of activity — such as doing something creative or helping others in these dark, tumultous times.
The Tao Te Ching is a jewel of a book ascribed to the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (6th century BC). It offers precious insights into Taoism, its central concept of the Tao, and a way of life marked by harmony and tranquility. But there’s another good reason for reading this classic text: it is rich in poetic metaphors.
When viewing art, I often find myself comparing it to tea or coffee. That may seem odd, but the analogy makes perfect sense. An art piece such as a painting or woodblock print has a unique flavour — a distinctive quality or atmosphere that sets it apart from the works of other artists or even from those by the same artist. Needless to say, great art provides more than just visual refreshment. The following are some examples from the world of marine art:
What did Blackbeard, one of history’s most famous pirates, look like in real life? I believe we will never know for sure. Blackbeard, byname of Edward Teach (or Thatch), lived from around 1680 to 1718 — long before the advent of photography. He is typically shown sporting a luxuriant beard (hence the nickname), but that does not really say much about his true countenance.
Many beaches have been emptied of tourists and holidaymakers as the coronavirus epidemic drags on. No worries. Winslow Homer, the 19th century American artist best known for his marine subjects, can transport beach lovers beyond the boundaries of time and space.
Entire cities and countries are in lockdown because of the coronavirus. Millions are forced to stay at home, marooned like the pirate in the 1903 drawing by American illustrator and author Howard Pyle (from his Book of Pirates). Humans being hopelessly social creatures, it is a miserable state of affairs. Even so, I hope the following works of art, together with my random reflections, would help mitigate the misery of those who are not used to being isolated from the crowd.
Willem van de Velde II (1633–1707) was one of the leading Dutch marine painters of the 17th century, if not indeed the best amongst them. He was a consummate artist. He depicted fishing boats and naval ships with remarkable precision and artistic discipline — both of which he learned early in life from his father, a sailor and himself a gifted naval artist. Particularly noteworthy was Van de Velde II’s sensitivity to atmospheric changes and the subtle movement of clouds over calm or rough seas. Beyond the technical aspect, however, one gleans from his works the Dutch people’s special connection with the sea and deep pride in their maritime heritage.
Early this February, I invited photographers on Facebook to submit their photographic artworks depicting the sea for a special Marine Café Blog feature. The idea was to show how one can use digital technology to extend the boundaries of the imagination and create memorable images. Here, in no particular order, are the most striking of the works submitted:
A girl in every port. The expression sums up the popular image of the sailor: an inveterate womaniser and skirt-chaser. The reputation, I think, is not wholly undeserved. With their pockets filled with dollars, seafarers get to meet women in all shapes and colours around the world. The temptation to have a fling can be too great to resist.
Some maritime Casanovas never change. They go on with their merry ways long after they have grown older and quit sailing. On the other hand, there are seamen who may have sown their wild oaths but eventually settled down and remained faithful to their wives. I have known both types. Many seafarers, I am sure, can identify themselves with the following artworks: