The Laws of Nature

Friday, March 8, 2013

Blood and Beauty

The Two Fridas
Frida Kahlo, 1939
Book Review

Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Cynthia Freeland

Chapter 1:  Blood and Beauty

In this chapter, the author poses a question: Why has blood been used in so much art? Good question! I remember when my husband, after a year-long European tour, said he couldn’t bear to see even one more work of art depicting a bloody crucifix scene. And, that’s just the traditional work. Today, artists use blood in a number of ways – a lot of it poured on or applied with a brush.

Freeland offers us several answers to her question:

1.       Blood has similar physical characteristics to paint, and it is an eye-catching hue.

2.       Blood is symbolic: life, virginity, sacrifice, contagion, and so on.

3.       Shock value, especially in contemporary performance art

There is a clear division of purpose between answers 2 and 3. The former brings members of society together ritualistically where the meaning of blood unites them in a shared belief or value. The latter often generates shock and fear in individual viewers who may react in a number of ways, but not uniformly. Rather than unite, this use of blood alienates the viewers.
Perhaps you can clarify and elaborate on this synthesis.

This is only the first part of Chapter 1 and deserves some reflection before moving along to the second part which considers “Taste and beauty.” 

What are your thoughts?


Dan Kent said...

Well I know Frida had medical issues which is probably the reason for her obsession. We've covered this before -- I do not appreciate its use for shock value. I question the color comment -- doesn't it dry and dull?

I do understand its use as a symbol for life, fertility, pain, suffering, and mortality - to me this is the most legitimate use. But that's just me. :)

Katharine A. Cartwright said...

Hi Dan, Yes, this is a redundant topic, but with a twist. AS for using real blood - you're correct. It oxidizes, turns dark and dull. Not much of an impact, in my opinion. When I was a fine arts major in college (actually, three colleges) a student used her own blood to paint with and you never would have known it after it dried. It could have been a dull paint. So, I wouldn't have known unless she told me. What's the point?