033. Body/art

A discussion on aesthetics.

Questions to ponder

  1. Are you who you present yourself to be? Does your body constitute your identity?
  2. Often our culture is thought of as “consumerist”, as it is by Sweetman (1999). With regards to artistic expression(s) of the body, what (if anything) is being “consumed”? Are there risks in commodifying our corporeal identity? For example, “tattooing and piercing [have been] previously ‘classed’, ‘raced’ and gendered practices, associated with specific marginal and subcultural groups [that] have now become so ‘mainstream’ as to almost be considered ‘passé’.” Is this something to guard against?
  3. “Body art” can vary from make-up to plastic surgery, encompassing both the fashionable and the beautiful, the temporary and the permanent. Given these spectra, how should “the body” be viewed by modern audiences?
  4. Is pain a necessary/sufficient condition of art?
  5. Whose, if anybody’s, rights were violated when prisoners (or homeless people or psychiatric patients) are/were used for anatomical displays? What about displays of (unborn) fetuses? What is it that gives us pause in using corpses/cadavers for art?
  6. As van Dijck (2001) and Barilan (2006) relay, in plastinated cadavers, a large quantity of the original organic matter is replaced by a plastic surrogate (about 80% plastic and 20% organic material). That being the case, are we really looking at a “body” when we go to BodyWorlds? What about figures made only of muscles? Only blood vessels? When all that’s left is bones?
  7. To what extent is a “modified” body an “authentic” body?
  8. If we look at a cadaver without a head, are we looking at “someone”? What about a body cut in half? Just a hand or a foot? A torso? What about a full body assembled from multiple individuals?
  9. What should we make of taxidermy?
  10. Much of anatomical science (and art) has its origins in grave robbing. To what extent should this be atoned for?
  11. Should organ donation (after death, i.e., from cadavers) be an opt-out or an opt-in system? Would it be wrong to pay someone during their life for their body or some subset of it (e.g., their organs) after their death?
  12. Washington state recently legalized “recomposition” – “the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil” – as a method of disposing of human bodies. Would you ever wish to have your body converted to fertilizer?
  13. An extraordinarily accurate anatomical atlas (“Pernkopf’s Atlas”) was created by an ardent Nazi who (might have) used victims of the Nazis’ tyranny to arrive at the data. Should we use it? How so? Why?
  14. Can art be separated from its artist? From its medium of expression?
  15. Who are you and can it be expressed (sufficiently) artistically?

Essays to consider

  1. Anchoring the (Postmodern) Self?: Body modification, fashion, and identity
  2. Bodyworlds: The Art of Plastinated Cadavers
  3. Bodyworlds and the ethics of using human remains- a preliminary discussion
  4. What Should We Do about Eduard Pernkopf’s Atlas?

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