Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why study the figure?

Question 2. Why study the figure?


    Reasons often given....
    - human subject matter is best (and most accessible) vehicle for expressing human values
    - figure as outward expression of the inner states of consciousness
    - human figure as a landscape of form
    - figure seen as "just beautiful" or "just meaningful".. just argument... it just is

My own, brand new theory on this issue

It occurred to me that one can represent either man-made things, or natural things. Man-made things such as cars, buildings, bridges, soda bottles, etc... are the product of human design, and visually they seem to (in most cases)  bear evidence of that design in the visual form. Man-made things are also visually predictable, in that they are often comprised of straight lines, or curved lines that can be describe mathematically, very often perfect circles.

On the other hand, natural things such as rivers, streams, boulders, grass, forests, clouds, earth, etc... are the products of nature, not of design. They are the product of evolution, and they take the forms they do, due to the countless effects acting upon them for millions of years. The structure of natural things is observable, and it makes sense scientifically... but because of the long evolution that goes into the structure of natural things, their structure is much more subtle, and less obvious. Even today, scientists continue to discover new aspects to even the simplest of  organisms and natural systems.

Does the greater nuance of natural things (if not their greater complexity) leads to the fact that they are less visually obvious and predictable? The curves and forms and masses of natural things often seem to have no obvious systematic explanation. We can observe a boulder that has a bulge and a crack and a shaft of quartz running through it... and there is no doubt some causal explanation that we might be able to understand if we studied it for a long time... but when you're standing in a field trying to paint the boulder, you only have available to your mind the visual stimuli of the boulder.

So it seems man-made objects can be grasped by the mind as a product of the design that went into them, and this helps us understand them visually, whereas the structure natural objects is subtle and non-obvious, such that we can't (as directly) understand them in terms of their structure.

So, how does this tie into the issue of the human body as a subject matter for art? By the following logic...The human body is an organic system whose structure has evolved over millions of years. This makes it, visually, similar to other natural objects. It is curvilinear, organic, and ever changing. However, it is also (visually) similar to man made objects, in that it's anatomical structure (which we can grasp through study) factors into all the ways in which we see the figure. We can look at the human body and see both nature and design. This places the body at a unique intersection of man-made things, and natural things.

It is interesting to consider that the human body is a natural form, but that it is human who create all the man-made forms. And then, beyond that, the human body is itself obeys the laws of it's own evolved design, and that this can be grasped by humans as they look at themselves, and we can see ourselves in terms of our own anatomical structure. So man makes the world in the image of his mind (design of man made things), and then turns around and sees himself as a product of design as well.

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