Saturday, August 01, 2009

Childhood Angst

I always think of my childhood when I look at this Winslow Homer painting, "The Gulf Stream":

I first found it in a book of art that my mom and dad had around the house. It disturbed me so much that I went to my mom (I was around eight years old at the time) to ask what was going to happen to the man. I remember that my mom gave me a reassuring answer and pointed out that there was a large ship on the horizon that would likely find and help him. But of course I saw that there was a storm and what looked like a waterspout much closer than the ship. And those sharks didn't look like they were going to go away. Could they bite through his boat? I never asked my dad about it. I could just envision him saying, "Yeah those sharks get that guy. They're all capitalist sharks."

Like most people I tried to find some comfort in the details when I'd examine the painting. The fellow on the boat doesn't look too terribly concerned. Was he resting? Did he have reason to figure he'd get to shore? He had sugar cane on board, so he wasn't going to starve or die of thirst. (I'd eaten my share of sugar cane when I was a kid.) I came up with all kinds of scenarios for why things would end up okay for the man in that little boat.

But, damn, that painting sure did concern me.


Lawrence Roy Aiken said...

I'd like to think the man in the boat is thinking, "Check out all the sharks. This STILL beats slavin' on the goddamn plantation! All I gotta do is stay upright and ride this thing north and I'm golden! Fuck the USA, I'll land in Nova Scotia and eat lobster until I die!"

James Robert Smith said...

One thing about the fellow in the boat: he really does not look concerned, at all.

Apparently, Homer added the big sailing ship on the horizon to placate people who were as upset about the subject's predicament as I was as a kid. The original painting did not have that possible salvation off in the distance.