NARRATOR: What do you make of the dark, jagged shapes in the lower half of this canvas? Are they just patterns—abstractions? The painter Arthur Dove called the image Ferry Boat Wreck. With the title in mind, you can see that these shapes could be the broken timbers of a shipwreck. They’re not pure abstractions, then, but they’re not quite realistic either.
When Dove made this painting in 1931, he had spent years living on a boat. He was painting the world around him, but in a non-representational way. He wrote: “I should like to take wind and water and sand as a motif and work with them. . . . It has to be simplified to color and force lines and substances.”
Notice how the gray sand on which the timbers are lying fades off into ripples of blue and gray toward the top of the image. Do you see them as rhythmic patterns, or as waves or water—or both? At the left side of the painting, Dove painted concentric circles—perhaps they represent the sun, or the moon. Or they may be the artist’s way of portraying a sound—the warning sound of a foghorn, which the boat failed to heed.