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[The Evolutionary and Emotional Biology of Venus of Willendorf and Richard Siken.] - A Young Man's Primer on How to Attain the Leisure Class.

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January 26th, 2015

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07:10 am - [The Evolutionary and Emotional Biology of Venus of Willendorf and Richard Siken.]
I've been looking over old image files on my computer trying to get organized in some way. I do this for practical reasons like sorting things and I admit I do it for reasons of longing and reaching back.

Reaching back towards a place in your past is important because it's easy to cause yourself some heartache or hurt. And it's important to be self-destructive that way sometimes. [But try to shoot for being that and self-assured in equal amounts if you can.] The past is not always prologue but it does sometimes hold the key to doors that are in front of you right now. And every now and again I'll click though these old photos and look back into my past in some way. I look over the books I used to have and the spaces I used to work and the places where I felt lost and then discovered and then lost again. Again, it's stupid to make yourself ache in ways like this unless you can come out of it with something valuable and I'm good at ensuring that happens.

It's kind of like how in evolutionary biology there is a theory that suggests “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” That's a lot of fancy language but In simpler terms this is referred to as biogenetic law and it was developed by Ernst Haeckel in the 19th century. This is his idea: The development of an individual organism (ontogeny) follows the evolutionary history (phylogeny) of the species. That human embryos look like they have gills because people evolved from fish. That have tails in utero because of these same fish origins of ours. And so forth.

And so by studying the growth of the individual we can somehow summarize the growth of the entire species. Sounds good for sure. But from an evolutionary biology point of view it's not the case at all. It's just not the way it happens and Haeckel had it all wrong.

But the idea itself is still a good one and while it's incorrect for evolutionary biology it's certainly correct enough when applied to something like art or music or literature. Knowing the entire spectrum of art history, for example, from the beginning of time up until what is going on right this very moment in the world of art will assist you in understanding how to best create something new. It at least makes it a whole lot less messy than, say, doing whatever until something new comes from it. The idea that 'ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny' is even better when you apply it towards some introspective or emotional situations. It works that way for sure if you ask me. Or if you ask the Dalai Lama for that matter.

So, yeah, anyway, I was looking at these old photos that I'd taken in the different houses and apartments where used to live in. Some were from when I lived in Tucson and there is one that I have from my livingroom when I lived there. It's the only photo I have from that particular place. It includes a view of a couple of my bookshelves and I like to look at it from time to time to see all of the things in the photo that I had forgotten about. I lost most of the things in the photo due to many subsequent moves and other crummy circumstances. And I sometimes miss missing the things that I lost before I even know I miss them in the first place. If that makes sense.

I use these photos as a sort of data point to triangulate where I am now and to help me not to forget.

It helps me see where I am on a map. And that's important.

So I'd been doing this looking into the past that way and the whole time I'm also making some drawings since I promised myself I'd do a whole lot more of that.

I was considering basic art techniques like proportion and symmetry which lead me to thinking of the Venus of Willendorf and Richard Siken.

What do you think you know about the Venus of Willendorf?

She's a Late Stone Age [or Upper Paleolithic if you want to get technical] depiction of a female figure carved into limestone and there are many like her from the same era. The era of human evolution where we sort of shifted into being less like a Neanderthal and more like we are now. This is where we discovered art and in our new sense of creativity we made things like cave paintings and carved little statues out of stone. Venus of Willendorf is the more widely known of these figures and she was created around 22,000 BC. These were made before we had a bow and arrow. Before farming. They are the first forms of art.

Look, I'm not Jared Diamond or anything and only sort of remember the scientific facts and they may be off a bit but the point is the statue is old. Really old. And it is often thought of as some idealized image of what the cave men thought an ideal woman looked like. I imagine that's easy to assume.

Other popular thories say that the people who made this statue lived in a harsh ice-age environment where features of fatness and fertility would have been highly desirable. The parts that mattered most had to do with successful reproduction - the breasts and pelvic girdle. Therefore, these parts were isolated and amplified by the artist's brain.

What I happen to believe is what a terrific art teacher in Missouri also believes; that these Venus Figures were not created from the point of view of other human beings. They weren't made by some person who had an idea of another person in mind when they made it. They are essentially just self-portraits. They served as the artistic origins of representing the human body by first looking at our own. And to do this you'd naturally start with the visual information you had most readily available to you. Yourself. You'd make art using visual information derived primarily from the point of view of the self. [Physically, spiritually or otherwise.]

When you're standing up and staring straight down at your feet your perspective is distorted. Your feet look tiny and your breast would look large. Especially if you were pregnant. And you wouldn't be able to see your own face or head. [See what I'm talking about.]

If you have the time then do yourself a huge favor and read over the paper from LeRoy McDermott here: http://faculty.ucmo.edu/ldm4683/index.htm I'd bet it'll kind of blow your mind in some way and it's worth having a look at. Plus I won't have to go into it any further.

The point is that you need to really look at the full scope of things in order to see the future. And that what you think you know may be wildly inaccurate and it's always a safe bet to try and dig down a bit further. To a place that starts with where you start.

After looking at images of these Venus Figures and their proportions and did an image search that landed me with this one:


[You can see why Google thought they were related.]

I ended up reading the accompanying blog with this as the opening quote:

Whatever god it was, who out of chaos
Brought order to the universe, and gave it
Division, subdivision, he moulded earth
In the beginning, into a great globe,
Even on every side.

-Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4

A few minutes later I happened across a new poem by Richard Siken that he'd just shared about 20 minutes before. Which was cool in a Jungian Synchronicity sort of way since just earlier I'd seen a little painting on my bookshelf in the photo I mentioned.

The painting was a gift from Richard and I love it so much and it was in my mind when I saw he'd shared a link to a new poem of his.

And in his new poem he's describing the exact same thing I've been thinking about all night long.

[I don't expect you to follow what I really am trying to say in all of this. I just wanted to get some of it down at least so I'd not forget it.]

Related Reading:

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[User Picture]
Date:January 30th, 2015 08:41 pm (UTC)
being able to reorganize is a beautiful gift to give yourself.

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