People are drawn to what they know. They’re drawn to familiarity. If you see one type of person on the cover of magazines, on TV, in Snapchat stories—a tall, thin, long-haired, perfect cheekbone individual, then eventually you’ll be of the thought that this person exemplifies beauty. For example, Bella Hadid has been named the most beautiful woman in the world, according to the ‘Golden Ratio of Beauty’. The 23-year-old was found to be a 94 percent match to the ratio, a mathematical equation known as Beauty Phi devised by the ancient Greeks. (Saunders, 2019)
By this measure, there is a scientific way to analyze how beautiful something is. This would mean that everyone’s opinion was the same—that using the Beauty Phi equation was the absolute. We know this isn’t true, though, so it’s important to understand what other external sources affect our interpretation of what is and is not beautiful.
Image source: Daily Mail UK
Personally, in art, and in life, I am drawn to the imperfect. I like a sense of movement and mark-making within my work. If things are picturesque, completely real and lacking in any artistic liberties, wouldn’t it be fair to say that the same result could be achieved through a photograph? The Wabi Sabi of the world; that’s to say the imperfectness, impermanence, evolving ways—are what make us unique and not exact clones of one another. I love people who are a bit “off.” They’re interesting and unique. But some people find this bold individuality off-putting.
Perhaps the balanced approach is the smart one—that beauty is not solely predictable and universal, as both nature and nurture play a part in the perception of beauty. (Carson, 2019)
In my own work, I have recently been incredibly drawn to creating landscape works—I go out and capture photographs of the land that surrounds me and then retreat to my studio to swirl around paint on the canvas in a way that looks much like the photograph; however, I always find myself leaving discernible brush strokes on the canvas—intensifying values, subtly adding unrealistic colors. It’s a fine line for me between realism or the traditional Western Classic style of painting and the aesthetic of Wabi Sabi. I’ll paint a moderately realistic looking background and then plop a stylized, almost abstracted-looking cow or horse; with blocky, deconstructed shadows and highlights—right in the foreground. For me, this combination of both styles satisfies my need to paint work that is both realistic but allows for creative freedom.
Dan Beck, 24x17" Oil on canvas, 2017 via https://faso.com/boldbrush/painting/130154
This work depicts what some might consider a beautiful woman, but she is depicted imperfectly--lots of "messy" brush strokes. Is this what you would consider beautiful?
In reading Saving Beauty, by Byung-Chul Han, the most pertinent element that sticks out to me is the informational overload we have access to with the Internet. When I was a high school student, a trip to the library to check out an encyclopedia was commonplace. Now, students can google any question they have and instantly have thousands of articles—whether they’re factual or not—in front of them. Instagram is littered with filtered, injected, hyper-beautiful people that you might never see in real life, as these filters aren’t applicable in person. Nudity is no longer tasteful, infrequent, classical nudity—as seen in Renaissance art. Nudity is brash, vulgar and commonplace.
Saunders, Emmeline. “Science Proves Bella Hadid Is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.” mirror, October 16, 2019. https://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/science-proves-bella-hadid-most-20590030.
Carson, Denise. “Unit 7: Theories on Beauty.” Savannah College of Art and Design, October 24, 2019.