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Shaping human form.

Recently I was shopping with a friend in a trendy cosmetics boutique. A display of unusually shaped jars caught my eye. The labels read: "Lip Plumping Cream." Curious, I asked the sales person what the product was for.

"... fuller, plumper, larger, more sensuous lips ..."

Reshaping our bodies is a basic theme throughout the history of humankind. Heads are shaped, necks are stretched, ears are elongated, feet are bound, noses are pierced, hair is teased, bodies are scarred, and faces are painted. Some practices are centuries old; others are short-lived fashionable trends. Some changes are a medical necessity; others are a quest for ideal beauty. Some alterations last a lifetime; others fade overnight.

Around the globe and throughout time, people have associated physical attributes with power, ambition, status, trust, temperament, good or evil, and of course, beauty. But looking good in one culture can mean looking unhealthy in another. Depending on cultural values and beliefs, people go to extreme measures to alter, enhance, or disguise the natural order of their genetic dispositions. Whether beefing up or slimming down, people work hard to get into shape, and harder to stay there. If we can't accomplish our goals through diet, exercise, or make-up, we have options such as steroids, supplements, surgical tucks, implants, and injections of botox[R], collagen, or silicone. Some believe that peroxide can make us look ambitious, while others think henna can make us youthful. At times, altering aspects of self borders on the obsessive, consuming entire dinner party conversations and sometimes leading to extreme eating disorders.

Around the globe and throughout history, artists too have been fascinated with the human form. At various times and in various cultures, artists have represented it symbolically, allegorically, realistically, expressively, and ideally. From the earliest prehistoric shorthand diagrams of the human physique, to the ideal, even divine, proportions of Greek sculpture, artists in many cultures elaborated their own conceptions of the human figure. Whether working from a classical ideal, a literal recording, or a spiritual vision, the individual styles of artists working today and in the recent past have been aided by the creative spirit, the science of anatomy, the academic tradition of drawing from life, and have been countered by anti-figurative movements such as Cubism.

An examination of figurative works through the ages will reveal a wide range of manipulation, distortion, illusion, and other devices used by artists to create narrative and meaning through human form. We can look for allegorical images in which figures represent emotions or other personal qualities. We can find representations of springtime, solitude, and melancholy. Artists also mythologize the past with images of gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines. Through portraiture artists commemorate the passage of time, the position of power, and the significance of status. In self-portraits of artists, we can find examples of self-reflection, self-satisfaction, self-exaltation, self-promotion, self-obsession, self-aggrandizement, self-doubt, and self-assertion.

The articles in this issue of School Arts are an acknowledgement that school-age students continue to be curious and intrigued by shape, form, features, face, body and our individual and collective identities. Like centuries of artists before them, these young artists are challenged by artful problems such as: catching a likeness, exploring poses, capturing expressions, and manipulating settings. They understand the usefulness of exaggeration, elongation, abstraction, and stylization. Whether working with Cray-Pas[R] or plastercraft, the young artists did not need lip-plumping cream to make portraits with, "fuller, plumper, larger, more sensuous lips." Their interpretations of human form are testimonials to art as a basic human experience.

Eldon Katter, Editor
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:cultural and artistic implications of the human form; Editor's Comments
Author:Katter, Eldon
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2003
Previous Article:William Harnett--Trompe l'Oeil.
Next Article:Meaningful masks: high school.

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