Shifting Baselines, or Reading Art through Fish
This chapter summarizes the ecological acuity of a series of exhibitions that examined the culture and consequences of cod fishing. The global economic history of fishing the oceans is a long-haul story about human populations using up wild resources. Andre Cariou notes that fishing was a subject mostly absent from the paintings that were made by summer visitors to Brittany until the later nineteenth century; in many accounts, tourists generally found French Atlantic fishing towns populated by only women, children and old men. Paintings, prints and other images depicting the French Atlantic coast and its waters have long been viewed in the social history of art through the lens of a modernist aesthetic that takes its cues from the social and economic concerns of tourism. The shifting baselines of nostalgia for times gone by are inadequate in our age of biological scarcity, pollution of our oceans and the commodification and gentrification of shorelines.