Friday, November 20, 2009

The changing views of feminine beauty

I'm using to memorize some famous paintings and their authors. I'm struck by master Peter Paul Rubens, and his painting of Andromeda:

It's interesting to me how some aspects of our ideals of feminine beauty have changed. I assume that Rubens was trying to make an image of an exquisitely beautiful woman in this painting (and indeed, many women in his paintings look like this). I can just imagine a woman in today's age, looking at herself in a mirror and seeing herself looking like the Andromeda in this picture. My bet is that she'd say to herself that she had a pudgy face, that her breasts were too small, her skin was pasty, her hair mousy, and her body too heavy.

Searching on google image search for "beautiful woman" actually reveals a great deal of headshots (body not visible), which is interesting. I then searched for "attractive woman" and the second image was this:
(both searches done with moderate filtering.)

The differences with these older paintings is great. The face is thinner, the skin darker, the breasts much, much bigger.I think most would agree that the photo depicts what most people would consider an attractive contemporary woman.

I have heard that in older Europe lighter skin was favored because it meant they were richer-- the poor had to work outside and they tanned. Now that plenty of rich people work inside, I guess that allowed people to like darker skin. I have also read (can't find the reference) that men in poorer countries prefer women who are heavier, presumably because it means they are not starving, and relatively healthy. In rich countries, men prefer thinner women. My cynical view of this is that men everywhere want whatever is difficult for women to achieve.

Of course there are aspects of feminine beauty that do not change, such as a general preference for symmetry, and a certain waist-to-hip ratio.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Don't Omit Needless Words

I will quote the classic The Elements of Style:

"Omit needless words.
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

I really don't like the use of their word "unnecessary." Necessity is too strong a criterion for writing or art.
One of my favorite illustrators is Heinrich Kley. Please look at the drawing through the link below:

Kley draws with a free, sketchy style. Now imagine going through this drawing with Kley, and asking him to justify each line or delete it. Is every line in this drawing necessary? Of course not. Most single lines in this drawing are far from necessary. However, the lines, in groups, are necessary for the overall effect the drawing has on its audience.

I imagine there is an analogous problem with writing. Language, both spoken and in its written form, creates an impression, rich with subtlety. It could be the case that, given a set of words, no single one of them is necessary, but as a whole, they serve an important function. I think this holds true for artistic writing, but to a lesser extent other writing as well.

Take a look at the last sentence I wrote. Is the "as well" really necessary? Should I omit needless words? The sentence would read "I think this holds true for artistic writing, but to a lesser extent other writing." It's clear, but it takes a second longer to parse. The sentence has been damaged because we omitted needless words.

I know that most people go on and on with their writing and need to reign it in. I think people should think about each word. My point is only that necessity is too strong a criterion.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Advertisement I Concepted: No Limit Texas Dreidel

My friend Jennie Rivlin Roberts has a company that sells a game she invented with her husband Webb called "No Limit Texas Dreidel." It's a combination of No Limit Texas Hold 'em and Dreidel. It's a fun game and I recommend you try it. It's sold on her website of cool Judaica, Modern Tribe.

She asked my long-time collaborator Montica Pes, a film director in Los Angeles, to create an advertisement for the game. I came up with the concept for the ad, which you can watch on youtube above, or go to I think Montica and her cast did a great job.

I also created the music, a track called "Robot Hans."

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Production of a Play I Wrote: Read It Twice...It's Real

A play I wrote, "Read It Twice..It's Real" opens Friday at Carleton University.

Location: The Pit, Architecture Building, Carleton University
Dates: November 6 and 7, 2009
Cost: free
Directed by Emma Brooks

It's a tragic story of a woman who gets frustrated with dating real people and orders a robot to be her perfect lover.

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