Chapter 45. The Case of Cruise Ship Art, Part 2
Visual art as a form of cultural production speaks to the sophistication of a society that encourages and embraces the importance of art production.
Cruise ship art culture is vigorously promoted by cruise ship lines, as evidenced by the very popular on-board art auctions and the placement of original artworks throughout the vessels. In this way, cruise ship companies can demonstrate their commitment to the visual arts, using this as a means to attract customers who, for their part, seek to demonstrate their aesthetic appreciation of artworks as a reflection of their sophistication, good taste and often wealth. These works cultural signifiers represent an important element of a marketing strategy targeted at those presumed to be inclined to appreciate and purchase on-board artworks.
As an art appraiser, I should refrain from taking cruise ship vacations because, more often than not, I become enmeshed in controversies of my own making. Here is a case in point.
Recently, while waiting for an elevator on a cruise ship bound for Hawaii, I found myself standing in front of an oil-on-canvas painting. It appeared to be a diptych. A brass plaque mounted to the right of the painting identified it as Blue Shore by Beatrice Findlay. Most of the elevator lobbies and stairwells on board were enlivened with original artworks, mostly paintings by well-known artists. On closer inspection (I couldnt help it; my professional curiosity got the better of me), I noticed that the painting was hung upside down: the artists name and the copyright symbol were clearly wrong side up in the top right-hand corner. As I was viewing the painting, the elevator doors opened and out stepped a group of people, among them a middle-aged woman who, on noticing me there, approached and said in mid-stride, My granddaughter could do that with a bunch of crayons.
Oh, is your granddaughter an artist? I politely retorted. She did not reply and just continued walking.
On my return to Vancouver, I emailed Beatrice Findlay, who I knew was born in Canada and lives in Los Angeles. I sent her a photo of the painting and inquired about it. (I also got her permission to reproduce the image here.) Findlay confirmed that Blue Shore was indeed hung upside down and that, furthermore, it had been cropped, losing about five inches across the top, likely in the course of being made to fit an available frame. The painting was one of several done for the cruise ships show lounge in 1996. The cruise ship line was sold to a competitor in 2002 a new owner, it seems, with a perfunctory commitment to original artwork.
It makes one wonder about the value of visual culture. In this case, it would seem that cruise ship management sees the presence of original art as a means of enhancing the aesthetic aspect of the cruise ship experience, and therefore as a strategy for attracting customers. Yet, if thats so, then I think the cruise ship company should, at the very least, make the effort to hang pictures in public spaces properly and to retain the integrity of the originals. Wouldnt that honouring of the artists intentions demonstrate a commitment to the true aesthetic appreciation necessary to attract art-loving customers?
Next: The Case of St. Michael Defeating the Devil