Monday, October 21, 2013

Art Appreciation: Tom Of Finland Woodcut Masterfully Captures The Pathos Of The Sinking Of The Titanic

Art can serve many purposes. It can dazzle. It can entertain. It can provoke thought. Perhaps its highest purpose, though, is to communicate feelings that are otherwise impossible to convey.

Tom of Finland's woodcut of the sinking of the Titanic falls masterfully into the latter category. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this adage is never truer than when one is talking about a sailor's ass. Like Manet's Olympia, the central figure's body language shocks us with its crudity. Is this poor lad fevered and thinking that rather than clutching an oil drum he's humping his girlfriend Stella? Or did the sinking leave a void that he finds manifested in his ample buttcheeks?

Mr. Finland displays his mastery of allegory by omitting all the flotsam and jetsam of a typical maritime disaster to cause the reader's eyes to focus on the sailor's dookie maker. Where are the lifeboats? Where is the iceberg? Mr. Finland seems to be saying that all the gory details of the modern world don't amount to a hill of beans when one has a booty that could crack Brazil nuts.

Like all great artists, Mr. Finland takes us into a world we've never entered before, and the wealth of detail he includes is astonishing. The ship hasn't even finished sinking, yet the sailor is far from it, with no other passengers in sight. We're drawn deeper into his world of secrets as we wonder: Is he a fast paddler? Or did he leap off the deck before the ship sank because he saw an island and had a yearning for coconut?

Though he's floating aimlessly, the sailor isn't wet. Though ship disasters can be messy affairs, he isn't dirty. In fact, he hasn't even lost his hat. Gradually we begin to wonder: is this sailor, in fact, a victim to the ship disaster, or was he just floating by doing the Sump-Pump Shuffle when the tragedy occurred? Judging from the expression on his face, he looks like he's next in line for Go Ahead And Chute Me! at the Dorney Water Park. Is shock the reason his face struggles to convey something more than, "Man, I could sure use a Pepsi Light"?

To the artist's credit, the work still serves as an educational instrument, because without it we wouldn't have known that the Titanic sank exactly on the horizon, and that, judging by the steam pouring from the smokestack, the engines were still going full-speed ahead even though the prow was pointed down.

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