Art Elsewhere: Regina Spektor’s All the Rowboats

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This song is much more intense than Regina’s usual jam, but I think that’s what makes it so great – you’re not expecting it. And the best part is, the whole song’s about art! She’s lamenting over the captivity of masterpieces, destined to spend eternity locked away in museums because of how beautiful they are.
As a “free the art” kind of girl, I like to think that this song is about the selfishness of the museums, for hoarding away all these masterpieces and holding them ransom for admission prices. I personally believe that some material items exist in a sphere of magnificence above price – they’re too beautiful to be bought, and should belong to the people. Of course, since the museums can’t go giving each of us a Van Gogh or a piece of the Dead Sea Scrolls, their responsibility is to keep these items safe; to preserve them for us and our children and our children’s children. 
But no matter what, these works should always belong to the collective society, who put up with things like visiting hours because that’s bearable to exchange for our masterpieces’ safety, plus we can’t expect museum workers to have an overnight shift. But things like outrageously high admission prices and “museum storage” are things we shouldn’t have to put up with. The museum doesn’t need $20 from an art student who wants to draw after the Greek greats, and it shouldn’t ever NOT be showcasing a work of art that we deserve to see. If they’re not going to have it on display, they should donate it to a smaller museum that will. I get that you like to rotate some exhibits to “keep things fresh,” but your need to have new items in your next email newsletter is not a good enough reason to hide priceless, timeless items from some of the greatest civilizations and people who ever lived. 
So that’s what I like to think Regina is singing about in this song, but I know it can’t be that specific. I don’t know where the rowboats are trying to row off to, but nothing lasts as long as the stuff as museums, so maybe it’s just a desire to be mortal – to be real. Maybe they miss the artists who made them and died centuries ago, or maybe instead they represent those artists and that’s why it’s nothing but a mausoleum… And that’s why this song it so great. 

Check out Regina’s “All the Rowboats” music video and lyrics below. 

What do you think she’s singing about?   

All the rowboats in the paintings
They keep trying to row away
And the captains’ worried faces
Stay contorted and staring at the waves
They’ll keep hanging in their gold frames
For forever, forever and a day
All the rowboats in the oil paintings
They keep trying to row away, row away

Hear them whispering French and German

Dutch, Italian, and Latin

When no one’s looking I touch a sculpture

Marble, cold and soft as satin

But the most special are the most lonely

God, I pity the violins

In glass coffins they keep coughing

They’ve forgotten, forgotten how to sing, how to sing

First there’s lights out, then there’s lock up

Masterpieces serving maximum sentences

It’s their own fault for being timeless

There’s a price to pay and a consequence

All the galleries, the museums

Here’s your ticket, welcome to the tombs

They’re just public mausoleums

The living dead fill every room

But the most special are the most lonely

God, I pity the violins

In glass coffins they keep coughing

They’ve forgotten, forgotten how to sing

They will stay there in their gold frames

For forever, forever and a day

All the rowboats in the oil paintings

They keep trying to row away, row away

First there’s lights out, then there’s lock up

Masterpieces serving maximum sentences

It’s their own fault for being timeless

There’s a price to pay and a consequence

All the galleries, the museums

They will stay there forever and a day

All the rowboats in the oil paintings

They keep trying to row away, row away

All the rowboats in the oil paintings

They keep trying to row away, row away…

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