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Emily
1st January 2008, 14:24
The New York Times recently ran a review of an interesting art exhibit called Lifeís Pleasures: The Ashcan Artistsí Brush With Leisure, 1895-1925, and I thought it would be worth mentioning here.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/28/arts/design/28sloa.html?ref=design

The art in question is from the early 20th century, when Modernism had already taken over "high art," resulting in abstraction, ugliness, and the eradication of the human form. The artists whose work is chronicled in this exhibit constituted a sort of artistic "underground," still depicting full-figured female beauty, as the Old Masters had done, even while the art establishment was canonizing degenerate art.

As the article explains,

The painters of the Ashcan School just wanted to have fun. They chronicled the lives of poor city dwellers, but they were neither social critics nor reformers.

No Puritan crusaders, they were manly epicureans, and their virile hero was Teddy Roosevelt.

[Their work was] not an indictment of poverty but an anti-academic celebration of unsupervised freedom, spontaneity and play.

This being America at the turn of the 20th century, sexuality tends to be muted, but itís not totally repressed. One of Sloanís most delightful prints shows a young woman descending subway stairs: Her skirt has flipped up in a sudden gust, giving a man going up the stairs a leggy eyeful. And back at the Ashcan show, thereís Henriís bigger-than-life painting of a voluptuous model posing as a smirking Salome in a sparkly halter top, with bared midriff and sheer fabric revealing her naked legs
Predictably, their work was attacked by the socialist magazines of the day, and it's very true that the "Ashcan paintings often look muddy and too hastily made," as the article acknowledges. But just as Romanticism in literature went into the underground in the 20th century (in genres like fantasy, horror, and sci-fi -- e.g., The Lord of the Rings), so this art school became practically the last vestige of the great Western tradition of depictions of the human figure.

Here are a couple of their sketches, as reprinted in the Times. First, a woman reading in the subway (note the full legs),

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2007/12/27/arts/21100135.JPG

Next, a lady turning out the light for the evening (shapely arms):

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2007/12/27/arts/21100159.JPG

Another artist of this school was Reginald Marsh, still creating depictions of gorgeous, full-figured women into the Depression of the 1930s. Note the ladies' rounded abdomens -- not pregnant, just attractively curvy and well fed. Marsh was glorifying the fact that even in this dark time in American history, beauty still existed.

http://www.askart.com/AskART/images/interest/illustrators/11ReginaldMarsh.jpg

and this one shows a couple in a carnival "house of horrors." The blonde is a real Classical beauty, with full legs, flowing golden hair, and is wearing a lovely blouse.

http://www.artincontext.org/image_listings/DCM/mid_DCM0011.jpg

You can see the grim environment of Depression-era American creeping in, but unlike the Modernists and every art school afterwards, these painters didn't simply wallow in self-serving political complaint, but still tried to find beauty in the world, and share it with the public -- which is a much braver and more worthwhile artistic endeavour.

Any era in human history has its darkness, but the greatest gift of the artist is to brighten people's lives with the light of true beauty.

vargas
1st January 2008, 20:05
This is a wonderful article and I appreciate the idea of looking into artistic visions that celebrated full-figured beauty in the past as a way to start off the new year. It stands as a promise of things to come in the future for those of us supportive of change in beauty-ideal standards, and attitudes towards weight, within Western culture.

HSG
23rd January 2008, 02:17
unlike the Modernists and every art school afterwards, these painters didn't simply wallow in self-serving political complaint, but still tried to find beauty in the world, and share it with the public -- which is a much braver and more worthwhile artistic endeavour.

Any era in human history has its darkness, but the greatest gift of the artist is to brighten people's lives with the light of true beauty.
This is a profound point. How ridiculous is the excuse that modern artists use to defend their degenerate creations, saying that they are trying to "depict the horrors" of the present day! <i>Every</i> era has horrors. Are living conditions today any worse than they were two centuries ago? Hardly. The grim realities of life, or the cruelty of human nature, did not prevent Beethoven from composing his symphonies, or Friedrich from painting his canvasses. The cowardly artist remains mired in despair. The great artist struggles with it, and, in his greatest moments, overcomes it.

At any rate, here is one of the better paintings by Reginald Marsh (noted above), one in which he displays an above-average degree of technical competence. It is titled <i>Merry-Go-Round,</I> one of a number of canvasses that the artist created on this theme. The model looks well-fed and gorgeous, and her carnival horse exhibits some of the dignity of a noble steed. The idea behind the painting is compelling--this buxom beauty, with her golden tresses blowing in the wind, and her tight-fitted blouse, is the living embodiment of a princess of another time, and she retains her goddesslike nobility even in the mundane world of today.<p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/gallery/marsh01.jpg"></center><p>A merry-go-round image such as this would make an ideal test photo or tear sheet featuring a plus-size goddess. It's surprising that no photographer has yet shot a full-figured fashion model in a similar manner. The opportunity awaits . . .