Posts Tagged ‘perfection’

Let us now praise famous toes.Famous squooshed toes, that is.

Why is Eirene’s little toe deformed? It’s 360 BCE. Nobody was wearing narrow pointed high heeled boots in Athens at the time.  How did the sculptor come up with the idea of hammering such a crooked little toe out of his marble block?
ToesGSThe Greeks were famously obsessed with perfection and in the visual arts that meant the Golden Section. As an example, you can see that Eirene’s peplos drapes at about the line dividing her body into the Golden Section. But the little toe? Now, granted the Athenians had lost the war with Sparta in 404 BC and were understandably demoralized. They stopped writing juicy drama and instead produced brittle philosophy. Maybe their obsession with perfection gave way to a sense of humor. I was startled by the sight of this toe. It’s funny. Should it be? Can this be explained? Has anyone written a monograph on Athenian toes? Or will I have to live through this coming year distracted by this weighty mystery?
Sappho1I walked on. Heading towards the Café next to the sculpture court at the Met, I was tripped up by yet another set of toes. Here’s a tense, heroic Sappho wiggling her toes as if playing the piano and, look, her little toe is puny and out of line.


What’s going on here? This sculpture is from the 19th century. Could it be that for two thousand years sculptors have been encoding their deepest existential gloom in little toes and nobody’s taken notice!? The little toe cries out for recognition. The little toe needs to be understood. The little toe demands scholarly attention. The little toe is the elephant in the room.
Ahem. I know three things about toes. 1) only men have foot fetishes, no women do; 2) ballerinas do their best point work if they have the most toes in a straight line; 3) our evolution may dispense with the little toe (and little finger) altogether, over many more eons.

So, my first thoughts of the new year are on solid ground, on an uneven footing and draped in mystery. I like it already.
An uneven, alert 2015 to us all!
Marble statue of Eirene (personification of peace), Roman, Julio-Claudian period circa 14-68 CE. Copy of Greek bronze statue, 375-359 BCE. By Kephisodotos
Sappho. Marble, 1895. By Compte Prosper D’Epinay (1836-1914)
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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I brought in photos of soldiers taken before, during and after their tour of duty in Afghanistan and suggested that the face studies be drawn on one page. The emphasis was not to be on realism, but to allow the drawing process to get messy so that accidental marks and smears would possibly bring out greater expressiveness. Messy is difficult, believe it or not. Students most often want to produce neat drawings that will please others.

Here were faces of men in anguish and doubt. They could, of course, be drawn academically as a study in how features change over time and in different 14Soldier4Facemoods. But the photos invited an approach that in itself carried the expression of their torment. I gave a demo(right, click to enlarge), using the Stabilo pencil on gloss paper.
Though the photos came in sets of three, I suggested that there be four faces drawn on one page, with a fourth being synthesized by the artist.
This assignment came the week after our trip to the Wilmette Library to draw Michelangelo’s David. The David is idealized, he’s beautiful, perfect and worth studying. But perfection is not expressive. Perfection is momentarily satisfying and restful, but, as you can see from the David example, perfection Soldier3Faceinvites parody. Perfection, really, is a lie. To approach a feeling of truthfulness, you have to allow yourself get gritty.

(Drawings by Gabrielle Edgerton, Katherine Hilden and Barbara Heaton)
For more photos of soldiers to work from, see http://news.yahoo.com/photos/soldiers-portraits-before-and-after-war-1368743423-slideshow/
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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