Sea History 017 - Summer 1980

Page 43


Report of the Eel Bait Coniniittee "Trying to organize artists is like trying to tie eels together,'' the distinguished marine artist Charles Stanford has said. That bit of truth and whimsey belongs on our letterhead. But perhaps the point of ASMA is more aptly stated as getti ng the eels to take the occasional swim together in the same direction. As chairman of the "Eel Bait Committee," I've been asked by the editors to go beyond mere news to the cloudy waters of the philosophy and aspirations of the Society. Hoping, then, to speak fairly for my colleagues, I'll hazard an attempt. Marine art is of consequence because a free society values and depends on the perception of individuals and because maritime history is highly significant itself. Beyond the universal drama of the struggle to use the seas lies the astonishing variety of those uses- t he thousands upon thousands of vessel types, the millions of ships and small boats through history-war, economics, discovery, and the incalculable amounts of physical and intellectual energy poured into seafaring. This heritage is nothin g less than th e essential conduit of human enterprise that found and settled the world. Religion, finance, arms, language-all were passengers. Maritime history is not a side show, tales of Long John Silver a nd old fishnets hung up as restaurant decor, nor is it pointless nostalgia for imagined "simpler" ages . Earnest historical inquiry is essential, for it goes beyond an appreciation of design and technique to a chilling awareness of past prices paid for neglect of naval and merchant fleets and to the proof of the value of certain character traits, both individual and collective-steadfastness, optimism, attention to detail, learning, prudence, informed boldness-and staying awake on watch . Marine art is about three things: the tension of the confrontation with the sea, the profusion and ingenuity of vessel types, and the results of those elements of character that produce success or failure -including those of seamen, admirals, designer, builder, shipowner and heads of state who support, or fail to support , their fleets. The maritime endeavor of the world, both the accretions of history and the experience of th e present, is vast and represents enormous intellectual achievement. One man' s paintings express the results of his solitary inquiries into men , ships, periods of history and certain special moments that have governed his intellectual life, his art, and often his long experience at sea. What many artists can do, that one SEA HISTORY, SUMMER 1980

can't, is to begin to inform the public of that vast variety, scope and accomplishment that comprise the larger subject. This collective effort is necessary to reflect that variety, for art exists only for the value of its unique expressions. Marine art has value not simply for its archival preservations, but for its ra re ability to capture the "feel" of an epoch or a moment through the wisdom of a gifted eye. ASMA is not a "school" of marine art. Rather, it is pledged to the variety of expression required to do justice to the subject. And this collective effort, this joining of individual interpretations and private curiosities, has important internal purposes as well as its obvious external functions.

A basic lesson of seamanship is that well tended gear and well learned skills never restrict freedom. A culture values its artists, and even manages to support some of them, for the strength and validity of their independent statements. No serious art society should tie its "eels" to any orthodoxy beyond honest inquiry. What ASMA does do is permit young artists to see, and to learn from, more good marine art in a year than could have been possible in ten years heretofore; it encourages careful scholarship and thorough craftsmanship; it provides assistance and research; and in demonstrating the variety within marine art, we may hope it emboldens each artist to take more seriously his individual statement. It can also show that publication preferences are not quite so uniform and predictable as is sometimes assumed. ASMA recognizes the truth that care, excellence and committed individual expression coexist and are worthy. The past and the present, convincing water, movement and draftsmanship, mood and detail, composition and accuracy, the abstract essence and delineated specifies, an event of recognized consequence of obscure moments captured by a skilled eye are all valid contributions. A basic lesso n of seamanship is that well tended gear and well learned skills never restrict freedom . Marine art, honoring its so urces, is about freedom of expression and discipline. What ASMA can do is pass on, from one generation of artists to the next, a respect for both elements of the traditon, and to pass on pride in doing it well. The Society exists in order that artists and laymen alike can enjoy more and bet-

ter art through larger and more frequent exhibitions, that viewers can better understand the richness of the maritime world, and that a greater understanding will emerge of the talents and schola rship of American marine artists. To paint the sea well, to know and represent ships truthfully, is an achievement of the first magnitude-and we invite yo ur interest in the excitement of that quest.

* * * * * The best way to spark that interest is to tell yo u where the art is. Listed below are major continuing or special exhibitions where the work of several members will appear. Lay (non-artist) membership in ASMA is encouraged, and the Society newsletter will provide a more comprehensive listing of individual and smaller shows . I . Mystic Seaport Museum Stores: First International Maritime Awards Show, juried, April 20 through July. Approximately 65 works, Mystic, Connecticut. 2. Kirsten Gallery: 6th Annual Northwest Marine Exhibition, invitational, approximately 70 works, July 13-Aug. 19, Seattle, Washington. 3. Access to the Arts: Third Annual Marine Exhibition, invitational, approx. 70 works, July 25-Aug. 19, Westfield NY. 4. Annapolis Marine Art Gallery: yearround, Annapolis, Maryland . 5. ASMA Third Annual Exhibition: juried , 75 works, Nov. 12-Dec. 12, Grand Central Gallery, New York City. 6. Greenwich Workshop Gallery: Sixth Annual Marine Exhibition, invitational, 120 works, Nov. 16-Dec. 13 , Southport, Connecticut. 7. ASMA/Peabody Museum of Salem: Exhibition of Contemporary Marine Art, juried, 60-70 works, May 15-Sept. 15, 1981, Salem, Massachusetts. 8. Mystic Seaport: Second Annual Maritime Awards Show, juried, April 19, 1981. 9. Tradewinds Gallery: Mystic, Conn. The Board of Directors of ASMA takes great pleasure in announcing the election of Robert Stickler as a Fellow of the Society. The updated membership list is now available from NMHS. Respectfully submitted, PETER E. ROGERS, President, ASMA

To enroll as a lay member send $25 to American Society of Marine Artists, c/o NMHS, 2 Fulton St., Brooklyn, NY 11201.

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