Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Prehistory (pt. 5)

Next is a very interesting piece of sculpture.  This is a figure made from Limestone, four and three-eighths inches tall, and was discovered in Willendorf, Austria in 1908.  It later earned the name Venus, after the Roman goddess of Love.  Why would they do this?  Historians were sending a message that this figure was associated with religious belief; that it represented an ideal of womanhood; and that it was one of a long line of images of "classical" feminine beauty.  In a short time, hundreds of other, similar sculptures from the Upper Paleolithic Period were also called Venus.  This is the Venus of Willendorf.
First of all, the sculpture is small and portable.  Prehistoric people were nomadic, and had no business fashioning grandiose, lifelike sculptures that were too heavy or bulky.  The Venus is small.
The next thing I notice is that she has no clearly defined head.  This is because—according to the views of ancient, "ideal" womanhood—the head of a woman was unimportant.  Survival of the species depended upon a woman with wide hips and other physical features conducive to fertility and child-bearing.  So the Venus is…corpulent, shall we say?  Perhaps this is all that prehistoric man cared about (I voice the opinions of scholars and historians—I, personally, doubt it).  Again, this figurine is hypothesized to have been made either as a model to which woman should seek to attain.
There is another interesting theory that basically runs along the same lines but explains it better.  An experiment was conducted by Professor Ramachandran of UCSD in which baby seagulls were collectively presented a series of colored tongue depressors.  A mother seagull's beak features a red coloration.
The baby gulls peck at their mother's beak, which acts as their source of food during their growth and development.  A tongue depressor was painted yellow, to mimic a mother gull's beak, and when it was presented to the gull chicks, the chicks did not react.  A second tongue depressor with a red stripe painted on it was presented to the chicks, and a reaction followed.  This showed that the chicks respond to the red coloration of the mother's beak, not necessarily to the mother's beak or the mother at all.  The red line, to the chicks, was the source of food.  A third tongue depressor with three red lines was presented, and the chicks responded more wildly than before.  This Herring Gull Theory illustrates how, as we tend to focus on the parts of objects that matter the most, artists tend to exaggerate feminine features of beauty.  When we get to Greek art, you'll see how artists tried to craft the perfect human form even if it meant stressing some features to impossible degrees.
            Likewise, the Venus of Willendorf over-accentuates the feminine features to (hypothetically) gain the most ardent reaction.  So you see that, from the start, women are objectified in art.  L

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