May 6, 2008

Art and Visual Beauty

Art is commonly associated with beauty. In fact, the two words are commonly used as synonyms (a.k.a. "that beautiful sunset is a work of art!"). Many artists over the centuries (and I am referring here, most specifically, to Western artists) have tried to capture this thing, this essence we call beauty.

The topic becomes interesting, however, when we bring in the issue of beauty with regards to the body and the contemporary "ideal" we are all supposed to strive for (a.k.a. tall, thin, blonde, white). It is a given in our society that Barbie is the most beautiful of the beauties. But how have the artists, the "experts" on beauty, those with the rare gift of seeing beauty's true essence, interpreted contemporary beauty?

An interesting example is Fernando Botero, a contemporary painter who has maintained that art's purpose is to bring beauty into the world. His paintings depict large, volumptuous figures. His scenes are billowing and sensuous, colorful and widely appealing.

To Botero, beauty is about form, curves, and volume. The women he paints have wide thighs, ample bosoms, and round rears. However, Botero's isn't a statement about accepting fat as beautiful. He is not an activist demanding equal beauty rights for all. The figures he paints simply depict the beauty he sees in the world. They are in proportion, gloriously feminine, and pleasing to the eye. He has even said that the women in his paintings are not "fat." Many would of course disagree. But, after viewing his work, it is hard not to fall in love with the characters he paints.

Another contemporary artist worth noting here is Laurie Toby Edison. Her book Women en Large offers photographs of large women in a relaxed environment. She approaches the subject with great sensitivity and the women are truly brimming with beauty.

And finally, I will leave you now with a fitting quote from Botero:

"I grew up with the idea that art is beauty. All my life I've been trying to produce art that is beautiful to discover all the elements that go to make up visual perfection. When you come from my background you can’t be spoilt by beauty, because you've never really seen it. If you're born in Paris, say, you can see art everywhere, so by the time you come to create art yourself you’re spoilt – you're tired of beauty as such and want to do something else. With me it was quite different. I wasn't tired of beauty; I was hungering for it."

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