Ryan Plouse

Image 1

In today’s modern world, falling victim to the ‘popular social vacuum’ can be extraordinarily easy. In fact most of us do it on a regular basis without even realizing it, wearing certain brands, talking in a unique slang, constantly being a participant in social networking sites are all things most young adults subconsciously interact in. In my opinion, some of this brainwashed idea of ‘needing to be contemporary’ comes from the mass media’s push to make the people who don’t engage in buying products and staying recent with the trends feel like social outliers. Regrettably, I myself have found that I have partaken in more of these social trends than I care to admit. However as of late my awareness of this has increased and staying within the archetype no longer appeals to me. Once outside the sphere it becomes easier to see, holistically the glob of people that adheres to the ever changing definition of ideas like normal, cool and attractive. Having personally made the effort to consciously view this bubble from an outside prospective; I can now describe how these exact same ideals, because of their popularity, have in a sense become William Gilpin’s definition of beautiful. Popular trends, societal peer pressure, and the mass media’s constant message of how a woman’s persona should be, has fundamentally changed my opinion of a woman who is picturesque.

William Gilpin in his writings, “On picturesque beauty” enlightens us with this idea that the impression of beauty, however grand or marvelous, is completely inferior to that of the picturesque. Not necessarily because the picturesque is indeed more exquisite than the beautiful; but because of its natural imperfection or roughness it creates something that we can relate to on an emotional level, making it more meaningful. This of course is my interpretation of what Gilpin was trying to convey to his readers. When describing an aspect of beauty he states, “In examining the real object, we shall find, one source of beauty arises from the species of elegance, which we call smoothness, or neatness” using the idea of beauty being smooth and molded into ‘neatness’ (Gilpin p.4). Neatness, it is a word used to express a state of being; but by whom? From who’s prospective? Just like Gilpin, to the untrained eye this smoothness and neatness can be seen as attractive, when in actuality true emotional fulfillment of the minds idea of grand comes from something that is stunning in its natural state, however rough.

Mass media over the past half century has slowly but consistently infused certain ‘popular’ styles and looks into the social sphere. We receive these messages on a daily basis through all sorts of mediums like the internet, television, radio, celebrities, posters and ads. It is from these outlets that woman derive their idea of personal beauty. Ironically, when they follow a mass trend to become more beautiful to others, they also become smooth and conform into the new ‘mold’ of neatness. This in turn takes away from their natural picturesque like qualities. Fortunately for them, young men my age are also influenced by these same media and social messages to be attracted to that exact form of neatness. It wasn’t until after I was able to view this system of social beauty from an outside prospective that I was truly free of the trickery and able to view women from a much more picturesque angle.

As I go about my days I am inspired at small features of the picturesque that are all around us. When it comes to females in the college setting that I am currently engaged in; I found it interesting, after having taken this topic to mind, to take note of which ones turn the heads of their sexual counter parts. As discussed earlier, the men tend to look for the women who fit into this ‘mold’ of smoothness and beauty. The conclusion of this observation left me to ponder the look of a girl who I might be emotionally attracted to because of her picturesque features. It was after reading William Gilpin’s ‘On picturesque beauty’ and Edmund Burke’s ‘On the Sublime’ that I was able to realize when I was in the presence of a truly grand and magnificent young woman.

Being with this girl and knowing what I do now about what truly makes something picturesque and how someone can put the spirit of the sublime into your emotions, I can’t help but not to find similarities between her and these concepts. In doing so I also automatically compare her to the rest of the girls who she is surround by that make her seem like a dazzling outlier amongst the common crowd of beauty.

My muse for this topic, the female of perfect imperfections, shall for the sake of being modest go by the alias of Athena. She is represented in my pictures by the purple flower that blooms even amongst its deadly sharp stems on its gothic even sublime style bush (Image 1). Her features are of the likeness of this shrub such that there is a timid splendidness in the midst of the chaotic piercing. This moment of calm in the aura of madness comes from a simple smile of pure joy; joy at the fact that she knows exactly who she is, and not what society is pressuring her into becoming. It is Gilpin who defines moments like these, “Variety too is equally necessary in his composition: so is contrast. Both these he finds in rough objects; and neither of them in smooth” as he talks about how you can’t find the true zenith of something without its counterpart there to compare it to (Gilpin). This simple round flower may seem trivial if presented to us on its lonesome, but when we see it how it truly is in nature, surrounded by its more threating aspects, it becomes picturesque.

So too is Athena picturesque to me, my second image is of a second purple flower which again represents her. This time however the bud is surrounded not by its own terrifying aspects but by other golden blossoms. These flowers are meant to represent other females who are cast from the same mold of media beauty (Image 2). To the normal man these ‘blonde’ goddesses who traverse to and from their kingdoms of Greek houses may seem to reflex the pinnacle of beauty in today’s world. However when I apply these simply yet earthshattering ideas of Burke’s and Gilpin’s true meaning of picturesque and sublime to women; I find these creatures to be like a painting of a smooth landscape, one of bright colors. Very similar to Gilpin, “In landscape-painting smooth objects would produce no composition at all. In a mountain-scene what composition could arise from the corner of a smooth knoll coming forward on one side, intersected by a smooth knoll on the other; with a smooth plain perhaps in the middle, and a smooth mountain in the distance. The very idea is disgusting.” I too share the opinion (Gilpin). These golden blossoms simple surround the purple and if you aren’t paying attention you might just miss the more fulfilling light it emits. I took this image with many different ‘artistic effects’ in mind which I thought showed just how much the picturesque purple out shown the beauty of the gold flowers.

– Image 2

The way Athena’s physical and mental temple is constructed makes her a very rare and unique creature. Along her naturally sun bathed skin arises a thin forking scar just above the right hip. This craggy route that is forever etched on her breaks up the smoothness and curvature of her anatomy. Nine ear piercings and two nose rings outlines and complements her face. The tattoo that states a part of her character is not placed in a position easily hide but instead boldly in the open for all to view.  Just like the flower (Image 1) there is an amazing softness but with it comes the protection of the spikes which in turn makes the bud even gentler in contrast. Finally I have ended with a comforting thought of being able to see the flow of the ‘popular social vacuum’ and with the guidance of Burke and Gilpin, I can make the choice of whether I am going to let myself and my decisions be sucked in or if I am going to live on the cusp of sublime with a hue of the picturesque.


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