Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Introduction: The White Rock Girl

™ White Rock 1947
The year was 1954. The corner deli had a picture of a beautiful woman on a rock just at the level of the seven-year-old girl's eyes. The girl was transfixed. She decided that the wings meant that the woman was a fairy. If she were a real person, she could not appear almost nude. Too bad, the girl thought, the wings ruin it.

With this remarkable memory, I introduce Body Language, an exploration of art, biology and culture. Art is often thought of as the province of the initiated art elite. Definitions are either relativistic “in the eye of the beholder;” or circular: art is what artists produce, hangs in museums, or is declared art by critics. Unlike countless books which have written that “art” cannot be defined, Body Language defines it.

Body Language does not say that the problem is cultural, that art is relative, that no one knows what art is, or what art is for. Body Language does not claim that if you know what you like and you don’t like some “difficult” art, you are probably a dilettante, parvenu or boor. Body Language is written so that the average person will be able to understand the definition of this everyday word and discuss “art” intelligently with the average seven-year-old. This in itself might be considered revolutionary.

However, Body Language is more than just a definition of one supposedly indefinable word. It is a journey through the human art experience, not in terms so much of art history, but in terms of human biology and survival. As such, Body Language explores art in terms of our human senses, emotions, rationality and spirituality.

At seven, I did not know that there was any controversy about the definition of the word “art.” I did not know that there were people who would attack such an image with distain as “mere illustration.” I did not know that representational images were considered by the art elite as “old fashioned,” “passé,” or “not real art.” I did not know that the world had no easy way to tell bad art from good art and good art from great art.

At the age of twenty-one, I came across a definition of art which seemed to be incontrovertible. Ayn Rand wrote: “Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.”(1)

Eventually, however, I realized that Rand’s definition of this simple, everyday word fails because it could not have been understood by my seven-year-old self.

I did not know why the artist added wings to the back of the beautiful woman. I only suspected that the woman could not appear semi-nude if she were real – and I accepted that situation with regret. Her beauty was lessened by the wings. If you block out the wings and look at the remainder of the image, you will see that my seven-year-old self was correct: the wings do ruin it.
1 Rand, Ayn. The Romantic Manifesto. New American Library. 1966. p. 19. (Italics in original).


  1. I think people are often caught up in trying to justify art and why they are making it or even appreciating it. Christians specifically often put a fish on their work or say in their artist's statement that their art is Jesus blessed. I honestly believe that god IS creativity and that in creating it, in any form, is meeting a metaphysical experience.
    I confess that I still don't know how to intelligently know what is good art or bad. I am self taught, so all I know is that when I stand back from a work that I have done, I feel comfortable or not. If I don't; if I feel a lack of passion from the piece, I continue on until I hear that breath and connection.
    I try to appreciate "something" in anyone's work. If a 5 or 50 year old comes to me with a ball point pen drawing, I try to find something in it. I think it is important to not dampen anyone's connection with their being, sense of creativity and dare I say, "god".
    Love to discuss ideas Ilene and so of course I love your new blog. YOU ROCK CHICCA!! ~Kathy

  2. the model was my aunt...gorgeous Gale McQuire