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).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Body Language: Art, Biology, Culture

Body Language: Art, Biology, Culture

 Ilene Skeen

Defining art, its origins and importance in human biology, its context in culture.

A work of art philosophy based on a lifetime of questions and explorations.