Do you ever wonder whether you've been a little trained, like Pavlov's dogs?
I do. I get so used to the pat and stock things that usually I accept them, unquestioningly. But when a moment comes that I do pause and ponder, I wonder why this idea or this image is supposed to be so representative, either of a concept or of something I'm supposed to like or want.
It happens all the time in marketing and advertising. Every day I'm bombarded with images and messages directed to me (the marketing bucket of me, anyway: middle-class, practically middle-aged mom with two kids and buying power): laundry detergents that power through stains, clothing that makes me look hot, cosmetics and creams that make me look young again, ads about weight loss, and so forth.
I wonder, which came first: the chicken or the egg? Did I look at my teeth one day and wonder about their color or did an ad tell me I needed to whiten my teeth?
TV, radio, billboards, Web sites and yes, even magazines. All of these bundle their pleas to my buying power with attractive and appealing packages that are designed to capture my attention and interest. Sometimes the appeal is through information, and sometimes it's through images---images that just might be designed to titillate my prurient interest.
I have it, and so do you, this prurient interest.
But what I am is fatigued by a constant barrage of appeal to it. It's not my only or my chief interest, it is merely my base interest.
I'd so much rather my other interests appealed to, on the whole.
But we seem stuck in this mode of appealing to prurient interest, and from there I think we forget to think. We're back to that trained dog feeling I get every now and again: where I'm just meant to react and not think.
It's probable that the first time some phrase was used or image was shot that it was unique, interesting, original and mind-expanding. That success, though, launched a formula, that after a while might end up as meaningless as a cliche. So people keep trying to think of ways to freshen the formula, push the boundaries of the formula---never quite grasping that they've trapped themselves inside a box of an idea and that what is really called for is fresh ideas, not fresh angles of the tried and true but stale formula. That pushing though, means that eventually the formula might be deployed harmfully.
I think that's happening a lot right now for young people (ignoring the issue for children right now), as clothing, ads, images, and so forth has pushed that "bring sexy back" formula onto them. We forget that or wish to forget that these young people are so much more than sexual awakening.
We limit the face and dimensions of them, and thus, forget to think of it. We forget that growing up and maturing is much, much more than emerging sexuality.
I wonder if this is what happened to Annie Liebovitz. Has she gotten as caught up in the idea of "quintessential Annie Liebovitz" as her fans and employers? Has she gotten so caught up in it that she didn't even see the individual in front of her---the unique person named Miley---and instead saw only a commodity, with a whisper in her ear from the magazine that skin sells? That sin sells?
Did Miley---bombarded her entire life with the message that sex sells---have any idea that there can be bad publicity, and that a suggestive post-coital-implied photograph might imply something well beyond her age or stage of maturity? Did she have any other example before her, something to hold if she wanted to say no, "No, I don't prefer a sexy shot that's exploitative, I don't think that's the way I want to grow up for America and appeal to a larger audience. I'd rather show another side of myself, an accomplishment..." or some such.
Are we all guilty of the same thing?
I argue that we become so used to---so comfortable and familiar with---the ideas and images continually placed in front of us that we forget to question their value, their worth. We no longer wonder what they mean---we simply, unquestioning, or desiring to not "make a big deal" accept them, at face value.
In fact, a number of people told me it was simply a provocative photo, rather than exploitative and suggestive, as I said in my recent post. Plenty of people told me it was simply an artistic photo that captured the transition from girl to woman. Because I try to keep an open mind, I paused and pondered.
As I did so, I ran across the exquisite art of a local artist. I was meeting with her husband and he showed me his wife's art Web site to demonstrate a point, which I sort of missed because I had instead tuned in to the eye candy in front of me.
I give you an original, truly exquisite piece of art that really captures that time when girls mature into women:
The Making of the Blue Goddess by Mele Florez-Avellan
This is art. It's evocative; it both asks for and gives emotion. We have the amazing pure line of youthful skin, uninterrupted, but it is backdrop, texture, a line...it means only beauty, nothing more. You have a sense that this girl is not insignificant. You have a sense of this young lady, an idea---right or wrong---of who she is, because so much of her is in the piece.
I see a girl who thinks and feels, in fact, possibly so much so that she keeps a journal. Despite the seriousness in her face, I see laughter, also. Her mouth is straight yet light, upturned slightly in the corners, as if used to smiling. I want to ask her questions---find out what makes her gaze off in the distance, what made her choose this pose rather than the more typical "gaze at the camera and tip her head with a smile only the young have" sort of pose. I want to know if her soul is truly as old as her eyes imply.
I'm curious why the artist, Mele Florez-Avellan, who knows this young lady, opted to obscure one eye and make the eyes less prominent, while opening her mouth slightly and putting more color to it, drawing our eye there, instead.
What is so powerful about her mouth?
In short, it's a powerful piece.
That's a goddess, my friends.
Mele Florez-Avellan does it again with this piece:
A different subject and a very different portrait. I have yet another, different sense of this girl. I have the sense that the artist caught a moment that this girl rarely allows people to see. I see a girl who shows a light face to the world, a face that doesn't reveal too often how deep the mind and heart behind it go. Letting the artist see that implies a trust.
Revealing one's soul is so much more intense and trusting, so much more evocative, than revealing one's bare back.
The art says as much about the subject as the artist.
This art makes me want to pick up a magazine and read a story because they are so individual and unique, and I expect, then, that the story will be equally personal and personalized.
Step back from mass market and pause and ponder---is something truly beautiful, or merely technically proficient and what we've been trained to like and expect?
Does it capture your eye, and from there engage your heart, and then your mind?
This art does that for me. It is significant, not trivializing.
(I included a few links to the artist. If you like art, click over and scan her site. She has quite a range, but all in her own style. I find it fabulous.)
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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