Research Paper: Art Since the Greek Kouros

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[. . .] The discus thrower is of particular note. Proportions of the body are ideal; the arms appear long but this is because the artist understands that the man is twisting around so that his left arm reaches around toward the right knee. The right arm is twisted around and holds the discus. Weaknesses in the rendition include the fact that the artist depicts ribs and some muscles like the deltoids and pectorals, but does not depict veins. Considering the sculptor was working more than a thousand years ago, the discus thrower is a remarkable piece of sculpture that shows why an understanding of human anatomy is critical to effective artwork.

A thousand years prior to the Renaissance, the ancient Greeks possessed a sufficient enough understanding of the human body to render a man with his torso twisted and ready to launch a discus. Renaissance masters owe their art in part to the ancient Greeks. Because live models cannot sustain a position of tension and movement for a long period of time, sculptures depicting motion are especially difficult. It is necessary to understand the way minute muscles, tendons, and veins behave under certain conditions to create the most lifelike piece. Even to the untrained eye, the subtleties of anatomical precision are noticeable, even if on a subconscious level. An anatomy-aware artist can render facial expressions in realistic ways, as facial muscles are remarkably complex and subtle. Understanding the internal organs does not necessarily influence the appearance of the sculpted form, but it can inspire the artist to visualize the subject in deep ways that do create a more realistic and perfected finished product.

In modern art, anatomy has undergone an artistic revolution. In Spectacular Bodies, Kemp traces the evolution of anatomy in art. The line between medical drawings and art is discussed, to show how accuracy and realism is important from both educational and aesthetic standpoints. The most recent fusion of art and anatomy is with plastination and made commercially viable with the Gunther von Hagens exhibit Korperwelten (Bodyworlds). Actual cadavers were used for the exhibit, yielding some controversy as to the original inhabitants of the body giving permission for their corpses to be used in such a manner. Regardless of the controversy, the exhibit has been described as "magnificent," as well as "informative," (Gray 698). However, the exhibit is more along the lines of pop art than it is fine art. Jones criticizes the exhibit also on the grounds that the plastinated bodies should be reserved for educational and not for entertainment purposes.

An understanding of human anatomy is akin to an understanding of biology as artists render objects in still life paintings as well as animals. Sculptures that depict several human forms together, or human beings interacting with objects or their environment also require anatomical correctness in order to get the proportions and perspective correct. If and when an artist wishes to deviate from anatomical correctness on purpose, such as Giacometti or Picasso, then he or she does so starting first from a position of knowledge. Then, the artist can deconstruct and reassemble elements of the human body and challenge the viewer to contemplate the beauty embedded in the body. For instance, in "Walking Man," Giacometti shows a man moving forward, and that movement is the essence of the sculpture. Movement, form, expression, and relationship between the subject and the environment are all elements that require an understanding of human anatomy. Artists and sculptures will always rely on anatomical knowledge to render the human form.

Works Cited

Bambach, Carmen. "Anatomy in the Renaissance." Hellbrun Timeline of Art History. Retrieved online: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/anat/hd_anat.htm

Eknoyan, Garabed. "Michelangelo: Art, Anatomy, and the Kidney." Kidney International 57(2000): 1190-1201.

Frank, Priscilla. "Everything You Wanted to Know about Human Anatomy in One Art Exhibit." The Huffington Post. 2 October, 2013. Retrieved online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/02/anatomy-art_n_4023603.html

Gray, Carl. "Anatomy Art: Fascination Beneath the Surface." British Medical Journal. Volume 223. September 2001. Retrieved online: http://pubmedcentralcanada.ca/pmcc/articles/PMC1121254/pdf/698a.pdf

"Historical Perspectives on Art and Anatomy." Retrieved online: http://academic.evergreen.edu/curricular/imagingthebody/Fall%20Quarter/Handouts/ArtLect2.pdf

Jones, D.G. "Re-Inventing Anatomy: The Impact of Plastination on How We See the Human Body." Clinical Anatomy. November 2002. Volume 15, Number 6. Pp. 436-440.

Kemp, Martin. Spectacular Bodies. University of California Press, 2000. [END OF PREVIEW]

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