Ars Gratia Artis — Driftart of Cape Cod

“Home with a View” Driftart on Cape Cod Bay

L’art pour l’art, the French expression and philosophy that transformed itself into the haughty Latin ARS GRATIA ARTIS encircling the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer roaring lion, championed the purity of art solely for art’s sake.  Within this philosophy, a work of art possesses inherent and intrinsic value distinct from any moral lesson or utilitarian purpose.  Art is simply art.

Anonymous Driftart Scattered Along Deserted Beaches

While it may prove a difficult challenge to maintain that purist philosophy in the chic galaries and trendy studios of SoHo, the abandoned beaches of wintry Cape Cod afford the lonely pleasure of artistic expression beyond the smothering glare of adoring fans and nattering critics and without any thought of commercialism.  In fact, ephemeral driftart goes unseen and unappreciated by anyone except its creators, transient flocks of waterfowl, a stray seal or two that may haul up to bask nearby, and a few layered, bundled, wind-blown and eccentric hikers.

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No Place Like Home for the Holidays

The Turtle Journal calls these creations driftart, a contraction of drift and art.  When we first explored the winter beaches of the Outer Cape, wandering miles from the nearest landing, we were surprised to encounter driftart scattered randomly along the Great Back Beach from Chatham to Provincetown, and the long, lonely stretches of bayside beach from Provincetown to Jeremy Point in Wellfleet, more than 45 miles of sand, surf, wrackline and little else from each November through March. 

“Home Sweet Home” Driftart

Where nothing had been yesterday, a collage of flotsam and jetsam springs to life, created first by the inspiration of a single artist, then augmented by other hardy designers and shaped into a unique community artwork.  Every few days until an Atlantic storm erases the entire masterpiece, someone adds a touch here or links existing objects there to invoke a new effect.  Located quite literally in the middle of nowhere, seen by no one, shaped for the pure, simple pleasure of anonymous artists who create it, and vanishing into unnoticed oblivion within a blink of the storm god’s whim, these driftart works are a true manifestation of arts for art’s sake.

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Blackfish Creek Driftart

Sightings of actual driftartists are as rare as credible photographs of bigfoot or glimpses of urban graffiti taggers.  They create their works outside the view of civilization, during times when fleeting, summer civilization has returned to its mainland roots and when the Outer Cape has resumed its natural state of raw, uncontrollable wildness.  We suspect you’d be surprised by their identity and they’d be equally surprised to be viewed as artists.  Yet, we like to think of these individuals as kindred warriors to those prehistoric cave artists of 30 millennia ago who created masterpieces of expression in cryptic, inaccessible underground locations unlikely ever to be seen by a fawning public.  And so it is with Cape Cod driftartists who build their creations along equally inaccessible winter beaches with the sure knowledge that their work will soon disappear unseen and unnoticed into the ocean depths.  Art of art’s sake.  Ars gratia artis.  L’art pour l’art. 


One Response to “Ars Gratia Artis — Driftart of Cape Cod”

  1. recognition you, lessen milieu, added to favorites.