“[E]very child is an artist until he’s told he’s not an artist”
—Musician and songwriter John Lennon, 1969

Every child is an artist, with imagination and the artistic instinct. Life stamps these out”
—Dramatist and poet Percy Mackaye, 1915

Let me explain fig. 2 first, as it’s based on the oldest metaphor used here. I’ve used the artist rowing with a pen as oar many times since at least 1996. Its point is that, as with rowing with one oar gets you nowhere, you just go in circles, so too, does trying to make your place in the world by just making art. Without the mastery and application of the social skills of asserting yourself, and reading others’ intentions you get nowhere.

Fig. 2 shows a scene from a time when the artist was a middle class, middle aged, middle income wage slave. The pen standing for art then is a Montblanc 149 fountain pen. It was a good writer/drawer, but was also a pretentious symbol of conspicuous consumption and attempted arriviste-ness and that more than cancels its usefulness and, looking back, it’s embarrassingly so.

Fig. 1 shows a scene well before that, when the artist believed he could get by, even ahead, with just art making. Here we see a canoe instead of a rowboat. It’s still a small craft, but one that progresses quite well with one paddle. His lack of social skills didn’t matter as much back then.

The pen there is a utilitarian dip pen that you can get hundreds of for the price of a 149. It’s line is more expressive than a fountain pen but more unpredictable too. More Bohemian than bourgeoisie, though not extremely either, the dip pen symbolizes the artist’s acceptably foolish youth as the fountain pen does his, as foolish though less acceptable, middle age.

There are women in these panels too. the one in fig. 2, her legs anyway, might have been a passenger or a co-rower; his memory is fuzzy or tainted so which she was is up for debate. Either way, the artist was not arriviste enough for her and she hailed a passing yacht and was gone.

In fig. 1, from a time when the artist was a voyageur (French-Canadian term for wilderness guide/explorer, c.1600CE) not a chauffeur. He was still exploring new spaces where hic sunt dracones, (“Here be dragons” in Latin as on old maps) but mermaids as well. Here the woman is a myth, a “the one that got away,” unlike the one in fig. 2, who simply went away.

In fig. 3, the artist has achieved “seniority,” and the theme there is not about getting somewhere or something; it is rather concerned with keeping what he has or is—Does that make the artist a conservative? I hope not! Here the allegory is not about exploring mysterious waterways or getting accepted at an ostentatious yacht club it’s about simply being at a known and unpretentious neighborhood swimming pool.

The metaphorical object in fig.3 is a brush not a pen. It’s not a paddle or oar aiding the artist to make his way towards an unknown (fig. 1) or away from a known (fig. 2.)  It’s still an artist’s instrument, but it’s less a tool for advancement and more one for [the symbolic pool’s] maintenance.

The woman in fig. 3 is, unlike she of figs. 1 and 2, neither fantasy or nemesis, mermaid nor ex-wife. It’s obvious—even to the artist, now—that her goals are nothing like the artist’s. She is there for the sun, he is there for the swim. She’s now minding her own business, and he his. 

For this artist there’s no more time for adventure or social climbing. These days keeping good form is more important than winning races. His living is now more about perfecting and less about competing. So let him do some laps—art laps, that is—cranking out yet another drawing w/commentary to post.

Websites for more info: