by O Society May 12, 2019
Today is Mother’s Day, and in celebration, we explore the concept of beauty. The aesthetics of the female form. This entails getting into identity politics, which we usually avoid at O Society; however, there is a time and place for everything.
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy we can confidently say is bigger than most people realize, and is generally misunderstood as well. What is beauty? What makes something a work of art? and so on are in this domain of aesthetics. The answers to aesthetic questions are mostly subjective as objective agreements are difficult to find.
Is the night sky beautiful?
Most people would say so. It fills the average human being with feelings of awe and wonder. How vast the night sky is and how small and insignificant we are in comparison. This realization happens when star gazing. I certainly have felt this way at times gazing at the heavens and would guess most human being have experienced similar feelings before. You know what I mean. If not, suggest you get yourself some weed and go up on the roof… bring a telescope… bring your mom!
Is a representation of the night sky beautiful, which is to ask, is it art?
Look at the above image of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Does this alone answer our question? Seems doubtful. People seem to agree it is a masterpiece. What makes it so?
Can you tell from just this image alone? I can’t.
What I can tell you is I didn’t think much of Van Gogh’s art as I had seen it in books and digital images on the web… until one day, I saw his works in person. Completely different experience. The colors are different. The texture… the damn things have texture from the brush strokes which we cannot possibly appreciate in this flat image.
Is there something objective we can measure about such a painting? You know, empirical measurement. Numbers. Can this tell us something about our experience?
The mathematicians tell us Starry Night represents turbulence in a way I was not aware of until the math guy tells us about it in the video above. When we know more of the story, namely Van Gogh painted this looking out the window of the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France. Yes, a mental asylum.
Therefore, the turbulence depicted by his brush strokes in the painting can be said to be an accurate reflection of the turbulence in Van Gogh’s mind. He is said to have been bipolar. In any case, this sort of artistic genius manifests itself in the beautiful turbulence we all experience as the wind blowing, streams flowing, and nebula of gas moving in the heavens.
With this in mind, we realize there is depth to the experience of beauty. Often, the more we understand about an artist and the story behind a specific work of art, the more we can appreciate its beauty. In person experience is different than internet exposure or seeing images in books, and so on…
Which leads us to an article which appeared randomly in my news feed this morning, posted previously here. The latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was just released and it made me think of how these images change over time. If you were around in the ’80s, you know the SI swimsuit issue was once a big deal we looked forward to seeing annually. It came with photos of women on the beach in bikinis as well as with letters from angry readers telling SI to cancel their subscriptions to SI because they were offended by the images.
Think of it as trolling before there was an internet to troll. The swimsuit issue was as famous for the reactions it caused, offending the easily offended “purists” who though such images degraded sports. Yeah, I know. Sports. Pure. Ummm…
Back in the day, before swimsuits were even invented, beach models looked something like this:
This (and the header image) is Botticelli’s iconic The Birth of Venus. She looks as if she could step out of the painting and right into your room, doesn’t she?
Does she still meet our ideal of beauty? For example, here’s what Photoshop would no doubt do to Venus today before they’d let her image in most beauty magazines:
Boob job. Six pack abs. You know the drill… plastic and liposuction.
When we look at the Greek Aphrodite statue Botticelli is said to have used as the basis for his Venus painting, the difference becomes even more apparent…
as we conclude a living breathing Venus in today’s world looks something like this:
Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus has lived on as a landmark of lily white, idealized femininity for centuries. In model-actress India Salvor Menuez’s take on this painting—and on idealized images of women in general—she’s much more.
“I just want lunch,” Menuez says, hangry.