Moby Dick Parenting

When a friend posted on his blog that one of his favorite artists, Matt Kish, was selling off the original artwork he created for every page of Moby Dick, I clicked right over.

I actually dislike a fair percentage of Melville’s text, but there are some moments in his novel that resonate. I spent seven years studying literature, plus a reading of Moby Dick in high school, which lands me squarely in the “well, damn it, after reading it three times I at least appreciate it, so show me whatchya got” camp of Moby Dick art lookeylooism.

And as I scrolled through the artwork, I realized that the most compelling images correspond with parts of the story that I’ve always connected with. Not man vs. whale, because honestly that trope is too annoying for words; but man against natural elements and against darker forces within himself.

I love these images drawn and painted on found paper by Matt Kish, each inspired by a line from Moby Dick, and each recalling for me some of the hardest moments of parenting.

And my post yesterday inadvertently featured the artwork, so here’s a detailed look at each.


Moby Dick aphorism #6: “When a fellow’s soaked through, it’s hard to be sensible, that’s a fact.” I have to admit, this one makes me smile, then choke back the sob that still lives in my throat remembering the intense undertow yanking violently at me when I was the sole source of everything for newborns.


“‘I say, pull like god-dam,’ cried the Indian.” The vivid graphics of this and the wave of rhythmic belief in the way Matt penned the words gives me courage when I don’t have any. Melvillean racism aside, I’m buoyed and girded by the Indian’s entreaty.

“A sort of badger-haired merman, with a hump on his back, takes me by the shoulders, and slews me around.”  This piece is, for me, the most aesthetically beautiful. This is ocean and woman and chaos and man and embodiment and swooning all at once, and I love it. The mental image, too, of a rough and scruffy sea-creature just shaking the crap out of me evokes the paint-spattered, tyrannical toddler who has to power to absolutely upend my life, one moment to the next.


This I selected with the intention of hanging it over my son’s dresser to calm me and ground me when nighttime rituals went all to hell. “So, too, it is, that in these resplendent Japanese seas the mariner encounters the direst of all the Typhoon. It will sometimes burst from out that cloudless sky, like an exploding bomb upon a dazed and sleepy town.”  Resplendent, oceanic, dire, exploding, sudden? Yup. That’s my kid, and I love him. And instead of placing this in his room, I centered it with the other art in the living room. It’s the frame most often threatened by children illegally jumping on the couch.


My photo of this is terrible, so here’s the original.  I love so intensely that the found paper on which Kish painted this vicious and tempered and vibrant art is the dedication page to a book that says “To my Mother and Father with Fondest Love.” Because juxtaposing that parental adoration with the text is priceless. “You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern de shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not’ing more dan de shark well goberned.” Melville had it all over Freud, because Superego besting Id has nothing on sharks well governed.

This concludes the art tour of my living room wall. Join me tomorrow from the art on the other side of the room.  Maybe.

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