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What does the body tell?

Published as » Joe's Art Journal No. 4, Aug 13, 1998  previous  next

Last week I talked about the distortions in this painting and proved that this is not a mistake but a means that painters unconsciously used ever since art began. It is a mistake to take art as a means to show what we see, like a camera. After all, do we really see what a camera does? I bet not.

You see what you want to see. If your heart is full of love you see a most beautiful woman others just can't see at all. You can easily recall numerous examples of that kind of misconception. A mother with her child, a famous horse trainer with your horse - hell, does he see the same horse? Or take the art lover who just can't see how beautiful this picture of Rembrandt is. Seeing is highly subjective, and in imitating the camera the artist does not achieve more objectivity but just another kind of perception that nobody really can see at all but the camera.

Now look at the clipping above: The head is mounted on the neck and the neck is mounted on the shoulders ... but somehow this all does not really fit. Concentrate on the point beneath the chin! You feel that her right shoulder is somehow flipped to the front, the shoulders get an expression of being flat, the view is led downwards to her breasts.

With x-ray scientists have found that Rembrandt moved the head later, its position having been more upright before. Now that's an operation! The face is the most important part of the whole painting! You can do that with oil paint, but you can't be sure you will get the expression as before, not even a genius like Rembrandt. By moving the head he probably achieved lots of things. Maybe the shoulders looked more correct before, we will never know. But the point is: What do we feel now?

We probably start looking at her face. The distortion there leads you to her breasts. Now what do you see there? I don't know about your place, but where I live you can see hundreds of bare breasts whenever you go shopping. Bare breasts are topic no.1 in every magazine, in advertising and articles alike, any size and shape, you just can't escape them. I wonder how youngsters feel today. Of course, this is not new to art, and Bathsheba was a perfect theme to show them.

Rembrandt shows breasts of a woman sexually turned on. The nipples are painted clearly erect, one more than the other, and this is a kind of detail that you don't have to see consciously - your soul will know nevertheless. Perception is not a function of the left side of the brain, adding numerous details one to the other to synthetically form a picture. Instead the right brain is called giving you the whole picture and story without even noticing the details. Ask any teacher! In entering class, s/he will know at first sight that not all of the pupils are there, without counting! There is a feeling about how many might be missing, one or more. Only afterwards, seconds later, there will be awareness that little Joe Doe is missing.

So you see at once that this woman is in a very special state. And you might suspect that this state was stimulated by the letter. You let your eyes wander deeper, and there you see this belly made to bear fruit. You don't see this often today. Our nudes are not made to bear fruit, they are deemed best with a young man's hip and no belly at all. Maybe in some not so far future kids are bred in a factory. Would fit perfectly into the picture. Not here.

Our journey exploring the peculiarities of the body began with the letter and the legs being draped in a funny way. Now we can feel that the legs serve the same purpose than the other details we looked at: They lead the eye towards the womb of this woman, stressing the goal of sexuality. The womb again is not shown usually in modern pin ups (pornographic pictures set aside, which serve a different purpose). The womb reminds of fertility which is only a hindrance and hazardous today.

This womb is painted with such loving caress it is almost a face (you see this spoken out clearly in a famous painting by surrealist painter RenĂ© Magritte, see » The Rape - Rembrandt would not have thought of this). The navel is very prominent, the pubic hair is covered by a veil. That veil really emhasizes the pubic region, is crumpled and rolled up as if it would plunge into the deeper regions.

So here we are: This body speaks of sexuality and fertility, the distortions all lead the view to the pubic region where life begins. The letter evokes the sexual feelings, the body opens the realm of the consequences. This is the depth of life: Men and women are here to make love and reproduce, and this force is so mighty that almost nobody can ever hide to stay out. That's the reason we're still here, that you and I exist in the first place.

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