Introduction to the Author
My name is Taylor Simard, and I’m a 20-year-old student living in Canada. I study at Carleton in Ottawa, and double-major in Humanities and Art History, which both follow my life-long passions for books and art, and I’m completing a minor in Biology.
I’ve learnt a lot throughout university. The humanities program boasts the fact that they produce thinkers like no other program can, and I believe they have good founding for that, as I prove it more and more myself every day. I started out my university career in only this program; I was in love within the first week. There’s nothing like studying the literature of ancient civilizations and realizing that they’re just as ridiculous and emotional and funny as we are today. There’s something special about realizing the creators of great works of art are just people responding to their circumstance, and I know I’ll never stop learning about the funny quirks of ancient people’s that make them geniuses through the lens of time. In my second year of school I added a major in Biology, I thought maybe I’d become a physiotherapist if my arts dreams never fleshed out, it was like my back up plan. I’m too passionate a person to rely on a back-up plan, though, and instead I found a second love; within the humanities curriculum there was an art history year-long course that covered the emergence of art to the contemporary. I feel in love all over again with studying art, and I decided to drop the biology major to a minor, since it wasn’t my passion, and add an art history major instead. All of this was a mess by my third year, but I still added the major, even though it meant I’d have to add another year to the end of my degree, which was undoubtedly worth it.
And now you’re all caught up. I’m living through my third year of university in the time of Covid-19, and it’s hard, really hard compared to the love that I found in a classroom, the ease of chatting with professors about silly things after a confusing class. But it’s getting better, we’re all figuring out how to learn remotely, and how to teach remotely, and how to find our happiness in studying remotely. The world isn’t going to go back to being the same after this, we’re going to have to learn and adapt, and it’s quite possible that I’ll have to finish my degree partially online, but we’re getting better, and hopefully, that’ll be okay. I know that me and my generation are stepping into the world and the workforce in a very uncertain time, but I have faith in the world’s adaptation to the virtual, and I know that I’m following my passions, and I believe that everything will work itself out.
Art throughout the decades demonstrates a variety of depictions of women. This is incredibly relevant to study, and in my opinion, to consider in terms of body positivity. Young girls today
are faced with incredible pressure from the media, which depicts wildly unrealistic beauty standards as the ideal female form. These girls are at a delicate stage in their life, and as such, are very impressionable to this, so these images can be harmful. Thankfully, social media is also providing body positivity, but to some people, with a combination of the two, body positivity only applies to a certain body type that is closer to the ideal. This ideal has varied throughout the decades though, because women’s bodies go in and out of style, but studying art would allow for children to see the variety in the ideal form. Studying art, then, would allow for women to see that there is no ideal body type, but rather that different cultures have varied opinions of beauty. Finally, being able to promote this art virtually would allow for the teachings of art to reach more young, impressionable minds faster, and this would allow for our society to realize that there’s more than just one ideal form of beauty, allowing women everywhere to be more body positive.
We look at the Venus de Milo as this icon of beauty, but she doesn’t look anything like most of the influencers of today. She is thicker, there are curves and rolls on her body, but she looks real, and she’s Venus, the Roman Goddess of absolute beauty. Women’s bodies go in and out of fashion, and each culture throughout space and time has a slightly different way of demonstrating idealized beauty. Just because there’s a trend today, doesn’t mean it’s something that your body has to achieve, or that you aren’t beautiful.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s painting, The Valpinçon Bather, is both neoclassical and romantic. Romantic, because it invites the viewer to see the painting without any moral ideals, but neoclassical, because it recalls the nude figures of the classical period, like the Capitole Venus. This Venus is depicted hiding herself as a guest enters her bathing chamber, only, the way she hides herself actually brings attention to her most desirable parts, which is Venus’s goal. Here, though, nothing draws attention to the bather in a sexual light, and she is instead depicted in a very realistic way, not posed to make herself skinnier, or with part of a breast showing. Studying a painting like this allows for women to understand that while they can be sexual when they so choose, they should be able to relax, and not feel societal pressure to be an object of sexual desire.
There are also periods that have valued the ideal beauty, but there are also periods within art history that valued personality, rather than a realistic representation of form. In the Mughal court portraiture was popularized, but it didn’t rely on real resemblance, but rather an amplification of personality traits that the artist and commissioner found important. Often, women would have themselves depicted not as themselves, but rather as goddesses, showing that they embody the same qualities of those goddesses.
The idea that the ideal form has to do with personality is also present in modern feminist art. The Canadian Artist Paraskeva Clark’s piece titled Myself is considered to be her masterpiece. This piece was done during the emergence of modernism in Canada, and she demonstrates it within the self-portrait. She stares directly into the viewer, demonstrating herself with a confidence, and taking up all of the space on the portrait. Much of the work is simplified, like her body shape, her clothes, her hair. But her face and her hands are depicted with extreme detail, making them stand out as the most important pieces of the piece. This is because in her depiction of herself, she didn’t care about realistically demonstrating what she looked like, but rather about showing what is important to her as a person, and as an artist, it’s her hands and eyes, her most important artistic tools.
Unfortunately, most of these images are presented by men, because even today, it is the male gaze that dictates the ideal female beauty. Studying art virtually, though, with body-positivity in mind, would hopefully help us to eradicate the idea that women’s bodies go in and out of fashion, because of the disgusting mindset that the male-gaze has forced us to push onto ourselves. If young girls were faced with more than just today’s ideal of beauty, they’d learn to love their bodies while still in that delicate state of mind, saving them years of hate and mistakes before they mature enough to truly love their bodies.