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How Art Made the World

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More Human Than HumanThe Day Pictures Were BornThe Art of PersuasionOnce Upon a TimeTo Death and Back

Why is our world so dominated by images of the body that are unrealistic?

More Human than Human
More Human than Human

Pictures of the human body fill our TV screens, magazines, billboards, almost our every waking moment. Through the ages artists have been obsessed with the human form. The range of bodies they have created is breathtaking, but yet they share one thing in common... none of these images resembles a real human being.

So why is our modern world dominated by images of the body that are unrealistic?

Neuroscientists theorize this has something to do with the workings of the human brain, and point to a neurological principle known as the peak shift. In essence our brain is hard-wired to focus upon parts of objects with pleasing associations. So if you were an artist, the tendency would be to reproduce human figures with parts that mattered the most to you.

Our brain is hard-wired to focus upon parts of objects with pleasing associations.

Prehistoric artists were clearly caught up in peak shift tendencies, creating exaggerated statues like the famed Venus of Willendorf. For their part, the Egyptians perfected a more stylized, order-obsessed human figure, only to have the Greeks break out and create fantastically heroic — but totally unrealistic — images like the Riace Bronzes.

So why then are we moderns constantly inundated by unrealistic images of the body?

In reality, we humans don't really like reality - we prefer exaggerated, more human than human, images of the body. This is a shared biological instinct that appears to link us inexorably with our ancient ancestors.