Images dominate our lives: they tell us how to think, behave, feel. They mould and define us. Why do images have such a powerful hold on us.
We humans made art and art made us human.
Through history there has been a Visual legacy helping us shape our own.
The Human Body dominates our lives, filling our high-street, magazines and TV screens- and the art world- Art is obsessed with the human form.
All the images of the human body in the art world (past and present) all have something in common- they do not resemble a REAL human body: artists rarely recreate a realistic image of the human body.
From the earliest time people have created images of the human form.
25,000 years ago the Nomadic People roamed the earth. In the 1970’s a small Nomadic Statue (4 inches) was found in Austria.
This statue was named ‘The Venus of Willendorf’-
The name ‘Venus’ applying to any female nude of the past and this was the worlds first clue of why our human world creates unrealistic view of the human body: Venus has over emphasised features i.e. over exaggerated large breasts and a large bottom etc.
But why, as humans do we see ourselves with these over exaggerated features?
Researchers began to look at the behaviour of seagulls especially when the young chicks were being fed. They noticed that the chicks were attracted to the red stripe on their mothers’ beak as they associated this with feeding time and receiving food.
The researchers experimented with this theory – producing a small yellow stick with a red stripe (looking like the beaks) to see if the chicks would be attracted to this, as they are to their mothers’ beak. The results confirmed their theory. They then increased the number of stripes- the chicks reaction was very interesting, not only were they attracted to this (over the one-striped stick) but their behaviour intensified and they became more excited by this non realistic representation of a ‘beak’.
When we look at the brains of our ancestors they seemed to be more attracted and excited by over exaggeration of features. Here, Venus, shows that what mattered most were fertility- these features were exaggerated grossly. Venus was the ideal of the Nomadic People.
Climate change brought on movement, people needed water to live and so travelled to large rivers such as the river Nile, seeing a New Civilisation created in EGYPT.
Egyptians were the first civilisation to start using the images of the body extensively in their art but what had changed?
The primeval need to exaggerate had gone, these images were now driven by something altogether different. They hardly were realistic and seemed to be produced with an organisation as that our developed society can understand.
Rather than exaggerating each part of the body, the Egyptians were interested about seeing each part at the BEST angle i.e. turning the face to profile, palms of hands out, feet turned but chest front on etc.
But is this more than just looking good or is there an ‘art’ to it?
The depiction of the Egyptian body didn’t change for 3,000 years!! It was only images of the human body that generation after generation in Egypt would see. The Egyptian society shared an obsession with consistency and order, values for their society was founded by this and was applied to their art work; designed with absolute precision. The Egyptians created a simple grid system in which their drawings, sculptures, images, writings and architecture would fit into perfectly. An ordered ideal.
So now looking at images from our modern world we can see how other things from culture and society can reflect and be depicted in to images of the body.
The Ancient Greek had a fixation with the body and had specific ideas of what the body should look like: an athletic figure became an obsession.
They believed their Gods were in Human form and if you looked good you were good-becoming God like!
This occupied the Greek world and reflected in their architecture through images of their Gods, which were realistic.
Greeks would worship in their temples and want to see their Gods in residence- meet them face to face. These statues were to be so life-like that the Greek worshippers would believe that they were real. Up to this time Greeks could only experience their Gods in small figurines. These statues were so life-like that the Greek worshippers would believe that they were real.
But how did this happen?
There was an artistic revolution- Egypt was over thrown by an Egyptian with the help of Greek Mercenaries and with that came a ‘marriage’ of nations. They began sharing and exchanging ideas and now working together.
This was the most rapid artist revolution that has happened in the History of mankind (from figurines to life size statues). Greek artists started to create large statues like the Egyptians (instead of figurines). Egypt rigid style wasn’t enough for The Greeks and they did something that no artist had done before- they started to use their eyes.
Greek artists had produced a truly realistic body (Kritian Boy). For the very first time man creates a human fully nude and realistic.
What effect did this realism have on the Greeks?
Within a generation, the Greeks had stopped creating realistic images of the human body but why?
When it comes to the human body, we are driven by that primeval instinct exaggeration (Venus of Willendorf). The Greeks had perfected the ideal body, which seemed boring and too realistic, now they could re-work this principal exaggeration into their art as they had the knowledge to do so.
The Greeks dissatisfaction with perfection wanted to have something more human than human?!!
How could they create statues that would satisfy them and be worthy of their temples?
They wanted to capture a figure poised from action- achieving physical perfection and more. Creating a grid through the figure- so half would seem to be moving and tense while the other side relaxed and composed. This new found reality gave exaggeration an overwhelming feeling.
That is the instinct that dominates the answer- humans don’t like reality, but subtle exaggeration; what we chose to exaggerate is where it lies today.
As modern society became more culturally diverse, so does what we exaggerate-
The art of Comic caricatures – is what draws us to extreme of the human form
Catwalk models- possess what our minds register as impossible
Clothing and marketing images-capture us with exaggerated parts of the body that we regard as important
In our own cults of the ‘body beautiful we even do it to ourselves.