January 17, 2004

Here is a curious thing, I saw two exhibits this week where the artist had been heavily influenced by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (both Bo Bartlett and Ellen Gallagher). With further examination it appears although coincidental to me, this is not such a rare case. Witness a book examining the subject Unpainted to the Last Moby-Dick and Twentieth-Century American Art, by Elizabeth A. Schultz
She is quoted:

“Moby-Dick is America’s essential ‘big book’: physically daunting in sheer number of pages; cosmic and endlessly mysterious in its iconography; epic in the sweep of the story–and, for all of those reasons, irresistible to visual artists.”

My favorite recent Melville interpretation (although not a painting) hinges on his short story called “Bartleby the Scrivener”, as addressed in the movie Bartleby. It a hilarious but grim offering about office life where the main character eventual “prefers not to” do anything. This is a story made all the more delicious knowing Melvillle himself worked, unable to earn a living writing, as a clerk in the New York Customs House.