Beauty and BEYOND!!!

Aesthetics matter more to some than to others; to me it might be the most important thing. I’m also very judgmental. I decide whether I like or dislike someone based on it. It’s not about whether someone is fat or ugly or retarded or whatever. It’s something else and I’ve been stunned lately to discover that it is not all that superficial. Maybe it even has surprising, intuitive depths.

I’m a sucker for aesthetic beauty. I moved here because you cannot run out of that in the San Luis Valley; even that which is not “beautiful” is picturesque, even when it’s heart-rending. Often because it’s heart-rending. In any case, it’s never mere surface, never facile, never insincere.

There are some paintings — some artists — in whose work beauty is just a starting point. Leonardo is one of these. I have seen reproductions of all his work and one of his works in real life. Until I saw that work, I thought, “Well, this stuff is not beautiful; it needs too much thought to be beautiful, or maybe it’s just been over-analyzed by now, by the time it has reached me.”

The Last Supper is a painting we’ve all seen a million times one way or another and when I had the chance to see it, I didn’t even want to. But, I had nothing else to do, and I had a broken heart, and I was in Milan so I made an appointment and went to see it. It’s not beautiful and it is not intellectual. It is a force of some kind. I loved it — I still love it. I love that in all that amazing perfection, Leonardo messed up with his materials because he was experimenting.

He experimented with scale. What you don’t see in any reproduction is how large these guys are. What you see if you go there is that they are immense — you’ll think, “He’s idealized them, made them larger than life,” but it you step back into the room as if you’re one of the monks who ate in this refectory, they’ll look like they are life-sized. I think that’s astonishing. So the monks would file into the room, possibly notice the larger than life Jesus and compatriots, then sit down at the table “with” Jesus and his disciples.


Another artist whose work — to me — transcends the aesthetic is Piero della Francesca. As with Leonardo’s work, there is an aura of mystery, of experimentation. Aldous Huxley called della Francesca’s The Resurrection the “best painting.” Personally, I like The Flagellation of Christ.


The Flagellation of Christ

In della Francesca’s work there is often a juxtaposition between some horror or wonder (Christ being beaten, Christ being resurrected) and the total indifference to the horror or wonder of the other people in the painting. It’s kind of funny, but when I look at The Last Supper I see the same thing in the door the monks cut into the painting where Christ’s feet would be. Real life moves on its own tracks. Della Francesca represents that in his painting; Leonardo’s work — without his help — embodies it.


Resurrection Piero della Francesca

I almost believe that John Keats was right; beauty is truth. The aesthetic I cannot endure is the fraud. Nothing that comes across to me as derivative or disingenuous is ever beautiful.

Now, if you think you KNOW why the Human Barbie and her pal and role model, the REAL Barbie, are featured images here, comment. 😉

20 thoughts on “Beauty and BEYOND!!!

  1. Do you remember the life-size Barbie heads that you put makeup on and jewelry?
    My cousin had one. I put in on a stake in the backyard. I was shunned for years.

  2. I can’t stand “Barbies” of any kind — human or artificial. I never could, and I doubt that those sentiments will change in the future. I know I sound harsh, but to me there has always been something intrinsically ugly about those dolls and their whole entourage.

      • I sort of got carried away and instead of addressing the picture, I vented. Felt good though. I’m not sure what your reasons are for posting the picture. And if I gave my personal reaction to the pic itself, it wouldn’t be positive, so I’ll yield to others who may be able to figure out what you’re going for here. I’ll check back and see what they have to say. 🙂

  3. Martha, such glorious artwork, it’s breathtaking. The very thought of how long it took to paint these works is mind blogging. I love beauty, but beauty comes in many forms, the most beautiful of people can sometimes have such a cold soul that you can’t get past that, and vice versa, someone considered plain may be a sparkling gem inside…that is beauty.

  4. I used this very same picture (human Barbie & ‘real’ Barbie) when teaching English in Thailand. I was exploring the concept of beauty with my class. Unfortunately in many Asian countries (sad to say) human Barbie is considered an ideal form of beauty. But you’re right…beauty more often than not comes from how genuine a thing is.

    • IMO, the human Barbie is as genuine as it comes which is the very paradox that makes The Last Supper such an amazing work of art. Here’s this benighted girl striving to transform the real into some very strange idea of ideal. It’s like Yeats lines in “Sailing to Byzantium” Once out of nature I shall never take
      My bodily form from any natural thing,
      But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
      Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

      Many women deplore Barbie because of her unrealistic and grotesque proportions and they allege that she causes body-image issues in little girls. I don’t know if any of that is true; it could be, but this young woman has just denied that and gone for becoming Barbie herself. I really don’t expect that to make sense to anyone, though… 😉

  5. When Barbie replaced the sweet-faced girl dolls of my childhood, it was a sad day for me. It represented a strange direction in how little girls see themselves and how our society sees girls and women. It had been evolving for decades, so Barbie was probably the inevitable result. First, Toni became Miss Revlon and little girls no longer played with other little girls, but with high fashion models shaped as no woman would ever be shaped, wearing clothing no “regular kid” was likely to encounter, much less wear.

    Barbie was always a weird concept of womanliness — unreal and plastic. I find it heartening that not only has Barbie been considerably changed and humanized in recent years, but there has been a resurgence of play dolls who are children. Then again, I’m a doll collector so I look at dolls differently. Dolls encapsulate society’s view of girls, women, and childhood. Look at dolls through the years and you see a history of a culture’s feminine ideal.

    I have a LOT of dolls.

    • So far no one gets this…but you’re approaching the right direction in your idea that dolls reflect a culture’s idea of womanliness — that would be an archetype, so here we have a young woman who has recreated herself in a very literal way according to what has become a social archetype, one that set out to be a toy and has now become a BIG subject of dispute, not too different from the idealized Christ surrounded by oblivious others, paintings emerging from cultures who admonish others to live in “imitation of Christ.”

      Since I never liked dolls much (except my Tiny Tears and my Barbie) I never “got” it.

      Even when I played with Barbie she was just a doll that was easy to design and sew clothes for. I never saw her as a concept of womanliness. I have never taken her that seriously. I think I’ve always seen her as somewhat ironic, funny looking and (my original Barbie) resembling Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle.

      The only doll I still have is Barbie’s friend, Midge who has blue eyes, freckles across her nose, a Barbie-body and is wearing the gold brocade gown I sewed for Barbie so long ago. The gown was (once upon a time) topped with a swing coat with rabbit fur trim on the sleeves. It was a pretty Jackie Kennedy outfit, all in all.

      My parents did not want to get me a Barbie. I remember having a huge fight about it. I ended up with one probably because my mom’s best friend’s daughter got one and my folks really wanted us to play together. Oddly, her name is Barb 🙂

      They had the common ideas people have about her that she fostered the wrong values etc. etc. but when they saw what I did with my Barbies (design and sew clothes, make houses out of cardboard boxes, catalogs and bits of wood) they changed their minds. Any how, if you don’t remember her, here’s Midge. I really like her and she sits in my studio one of the only things left from my childhood.

      The last time I “played” with Barbies was 20 years ago when I was working on the sculpture, “Barbie’s Battle of the Bands, A Benefit Concert for Cellulite Victims.”

      So, this Human Barbie has used Barbie as the inspiration for remaking herself. She’s remade herself in the image of something that isn’t even real. I find that really trippy and kind of beautiful. It’s like the Piero della Francesca painting of the Flagellation of Christ. Christ could NOT have be silent yet those three guys are standing there, shooting the breeze, like nothing is going on.

      I dunno. I think it’s pretty wild.

  6. Society hasn’t changed! Dreadful things going on and the public, or friends, ignoring the horror.
    Tv has made us insensitive to deplorable things happening in the Middle East. Barbie, I hated the fact that she was named that, for obvious reasons. The real life Barbie is reflective of false societal values and the values of our consumer society. It’s good that everyone takes something different from your post. I do like the way you could be creative with your Barbie. My eldest daughter still blames me for never buying her one. ❤

    • According to della Francesca (and I’d say Leonardo) people have ignored the horror long before there was television. Back in the day, horror wasn’t just ON television; there were public executions and people dying in the streets from plague.

      As for Barbie, I’ve learned a lot today, mostly that people feel reading this post feel like you do about her. Our society IS consumerist society. If it weren’t, then Barbie would just be a fashion doll and kind of an ugly one. Maybe no one would even want her. That’s the paradox — we create our deities. Rather than railing against consumerist society or just refusing to be part of it, people complain about Barbie.

      My dad used to say he hated Mattel because it had hired Madison Avenue to sell to children in the same way it had figured out how get adults to confuse desire for need. Years later one of my Barbiesque students told me she got a great job in Vegas for a marketing company. I asked her what and she said, “I stand beside cars.”

      We just live in a really strange world… ❤

  7. So true! I guess the trick will be to look for the positives now that the political future looks so bleak. We must keep seeing people in the light and not drown in the darkness! ❤
    Maybe Barbie has her place!!

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