The representation of the values and beliefs of a group of people through the creative arts has always been evident throughout history. Mediums like dance, paintings, sculptures and the theatre arts have been used as ways to effectively communicate the unique ideals of a society. This method of communication ensures that the teachings are well understood and are more readily accepted by the people. These mediums in turn, serve as information storage vessels, holding knowledge about the values and ideals of their respective societies. Among all these mediums, the most fascinating are the mediums that use the human form. Because the human anatomy is somethings we share, we tend to overlook its fascinating design. However, when it’s utilized as a way of storing and communicating information, it takes on qualities we did not knew existed.
Among the many cultures that utilize the human form as a communication medium, ancient Greece stands out. The image above is a bronze statue from 46 BCE, that is believed to be either Zeus or Poseidon. As a sculpture from ancient Greece, its significance cannot be overstated. From just this image, the viewer can infer so much about the values of the Greek society. For example, it can be reasonable implied that much like in our society today, the Greek society idealized lean, muscular bodies, with near perfect proportions. Another interesting characteristic about this sculpture is its pose. The dynamic pose gives the sculpture a sense of purpose. The viewers can conclude that the Greek were a society that prioritized having a sense of purpose and “reaching one’s full potential.” Another aspect of Greek culture can been seen through the nudity of this sculpture and many other male sculptures. As opposed to the the gross sexualization of the female body we see in today’s media, male nudity in ancient Greece was very common and on the forefront. The viewers can reasonable infer that male nudity was not taboo in the ancient Greek society. In fact, male nudity was seen as a cloth of righteousness, directly contrasting the more common notion at the time that male nudity was a sign of humiliation and defeat. This made the Greek society unique.
Another fascinating representation of the human from can be seen in ancient China. The sculpture above is one of the many representations of Buddha. This specific depiction on Buddha, usually called Laughing Buddha, is the Chinese representation of Buddha. Interestingly, all other depictions of Buddha tend to be slim with an almost expressionless face, directly contrasting laughing Buddha. Buddhism is a religion centered around letting go of all worldly attachment like money, fame, and lust in order to become enlightened through meditation and to gain transcendence. In most countries were Buddhism is practiced, Buddha is seen as the pinnacle of what people should aspire to be. With in information, the viewer can infer that the definition of enlightenment in ancient China was different from the rest of the world at the time. In ancient China, “being chubby signified good health and fortune“, hence the reason why their representation of someone who is enlightened was chubby. Generally, Buddhism involves complete detachment from worldly things, however, laughing buddha is a representation of success and prosperity in one’s endeavors. Again, viewer can conclude with this information, that ancient China was a culture that prioritized success in the physical world over transcending to a different world.
The representation of the human form in ancient Greek and ancient China are as different as the representation type of information they hold. While the representation of the human form in ancient Greece hold more philosophical knowledge around ideas like idealism, sexualization and nudity, ancient China’s representation of the human form was more religious. As a society, our views on the human form is very similar to that of ancient Greece as many aspects of or society is. However, with movements like body positivity and fat acceptance, we are slowly entering a new era were our views on the human form might be completely turned on its head. We might be witnessing the biggest cultural change in history yet.