In December I was able to visit the ‘Exposed: The Body in Art’ exhibition at the Herbert art gallery in Coventry. The exhibition focused on how the body has been a source of fascination and inspiration in the art world for generations. The human body in is many shapes and forms has been the theme of many works of art. The exhibition combined historic art with modern art to show how the depiction of the body has changed. Viewers were able to see paintings and sketches from Edward Burne Jones and Ford Maddox Brown, the exhibition focused on the purpose of each image – some sketches were observational allowing the observer to gain a better understanding of the human body and how it works. Paintings of the body such as The Hand Refrains by Edward Burne Jones had the purpose of communicating a story and an emotion – posture can tell us a lot about emotion, in ‘The Hand Refrains’ the title of the painting gives us clues about the focus of the image. in the painting we see two bodies – the idealistic body of a sculpture which looks towards a delicate looking woman. From the woman’s posture we can see that she feels uneasy, possibly frightened and maybe even self conscious – we can read a lot from the way her body is positioned.
Art traditionally shows us an image of an idealistic body – but the Exposed exhibition explores the way that the representation of the human body has changed. The human body in modern art and photography is often presented as idealistic or ‘real’ – this exhibition looks at the definitions of beauty and how the idealistic form can lead to insecurity. Throughout the exhibition viewers are able to see the body in different stages and well as shapes – we see the body as a skeleton in works such as ‘Memento Mori’ by Jan Pietersz. I think that drawings like these whilst they are unsettling, remind us how delicate the human structure is, these images of skeletons can represent death – reminding us that life is short.
The most visually striking image was Gillian Wearings portrait of Lily Cole, the appeal of this image reinforces the idea that we are naturally more interested and attracted to an image which shows an idealistic form. The image highlights the need to see something aesthetically pleasing but it also highlights how fragile and insecure people can be. The model wears a mask of her own face, highlighting her delicate and doll like features, but the cracks in the mask remind us that this image of perfection will change as will the models face through time. The human form is delicate and always changing this image highlights that perfection cannot be frozen and a persons image will not last forever. When looking at this portrait up close, I was surprised how small the image was, I expected to see a large print of this image as it was so striking. However I now think that the small size of the image added to its message – the image represented the delicate human form, so the small and delicate looking size of the image suited the meaning of the image perfectly.
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