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Ways of Seeing Beauty

Art is about perspective. Although art may be considered to be a subjective field, there are certain standards, or canons of thinking that are the measurements by which art is defined. The purpose of this paper is to present two viewpoints and to dissect their subjective perspectives about art: Bordo and Berger will each be examined and correlated with one another in the following essay.

In Bordo’s essay Beauty (Re)Discovers the Male Body Bordo takes into account the previous focus on the female body. For centuries the fashion world and more recently Hollywood have used female models and actress as the Other (de Beauvoir) allowing for society to gaze upon as an object. More recently in the fashion world and then in Hollywood, society has been incorporating the male body and giving society a voyeuristic look at something titillating and overtly sexual.

His body isn’t a stand-in phallus; rather he has a penis –the real thing, not a symbol, and a fairly breathtaking one, clearly outlined through the soft jersey fabric of the briefs. It seems slightly erect, or perhaps that’s his non-erect size; either way, there’s a substantial presence there that’s palpable (it looks so touchable, you want to cup your hand over it) and very, very male. (Bordo 171). Thus, the male as a symbol becomes very sexual in its artistic representation.

But the viewer must remember that Calvin Klein magazine ads are merely mirroring ancient Greek culture in their fascination with the nude (both male and female – but mainly male) even down to their style in which they are exhibited (the male in the magazine ad stands in a contrappasto stance, with one hip cocked to the side creating an S-curve with the body). In Berger’s own design of art, he does not hold to the classic Greek canon. Indeed his essay examines art in a rather stoic sense, The compositional unity of a painting contributes fundamentally to the power of its image.

It is reasonable to consider a painting’s composition. But here the composition is written about as though it were in itself the emotional charge of the painting (Berger 13). Thereby making the difference between Bordo and Berger quite clear. While Bergere sees art as contingent upon the viewer, Bordo sees art as purposefully and intently illiciting feelings for the viewer. The viewer in Bordo’s essay cannot look away because they are so enthralled by what they see, so emotionally involved in the subject, while in Berger’s essay the art patron has an unemotional connection to what they are looking at.

This view of Berger’s becomes rather dogmatic when taken into consideration the new school in Paris, and the impressionists. Their entire modus operandis was to illicit feelings in their viewer. However, Berger does give a glimpse of humanity when he states the subject of the artwork is contingent upon its reception in society in a very personal and subjective way. That is to say that each individual viewer will find their own understanding of art because of their own personal frame of reference to whatever the artist has chosen as their subject;

…when an image is presented as a work of art, the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions about art. Assumptions concerning: Beauty, truth genius, civilization, form, status, taste…” (Berger 11). Contrary to this, Bordo tells of how the entire female population as well as the homosexual population (here she even jokes that lesbians would gawk at the male model) finding the same appreciation and frame of reference for the underwear advertisements: Suffice it to say, sexual arousal.

No, this model’s beautiful languid body posture, his averted look are classic signals, both in the “natural” and the “cultural” world, of willing subordination. He offers himself nonagressively to the gaze of the another. Hip cocked in the snaky S-curve usually reserved for depictions of women’s bodies, eyes downcast but not closed, he gives off a sultry, moody, subtle but undeniably seductive consciousness of his erotic allure. Feast on me, I’m here to be looked at, my body is for your eyes. Oh my.

(Bordo 171). What is interesting to note is that perhaps both artists put firm faith in the idea of the Other, or the voyeur of art. Hitherto, society has held a fascination with the female nude (as expressed above). It is Bordo’s point of view that Madison Avenue heard the complaints of women being ‘surveyed harshly’ (Bordo 173) and to counterattack the opposition merely made men become the object. In being the object, the essence of being male for the model (of art or advertisement) is being scrutinized.

Thus, in order to better define their role as essentially male, they must be svelt without being unmovably muscular (Bordo gives Arnold Swarzzeneggar as an example) and to be slightly feminine in face without losing their erotic appeal to the female populace, as Bordo states, But what’s really happened is that women have been the beneficiaries of what might be described as a triumph of pure consumerism– and with it, a burgeoning male and fitness and beauty culture– over homophobia and the taboos against male vanity, male “femininity,” and erotic display of the male body that have gone along with it. (Bordo 179).

Speaking about this quintessential stereotypes of models and ideas of beauty, Berger also takes not of the populace’s acceptance of what is sexual and what isn’t (again the subjective role of art). In this respect he states, “The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe” (Berger 8). This may be the culmination of these two authors’ distinct views of art. That art is subject to the belief system of a society.


Bartholomae, David & Anthony Petrosky. Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. 7th Edition. Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. British Broadcasting Corporation. Penguin Books. 1972.

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