Sculpting the body
A look at the high art of exercise

by Jules Masterjohn

This last month has been a big one. I decided to buy a house, get married and found out that my baby sister is going to participate in a body-building contest. All three revelations involve, for me, the letting go of some long-held preconceptions about what is and could be in my world. The situation I am having the toughest time cozying up to, the one that continues to hang ominously at my mind’s periphery, is my kid sister strutting her stuff in front of hundreds of people.

It’s not that I am prudish or ashamed of the body. Some of the most satisfying moments during my studio-art education were spent in life-drawing classes, traversing the terrain of a model’s ample figure with my pencil to paper. To support myself through graduate school, I even modeled in my birthday suit for life-drawing classes, baring my exposed contours for young drawing students to see. And I am familiar with the long history of the nude figure in art, from the Greek sculptures of the athletic male forms to the reclining female nudes that dotted 19th century painting. Still, my bewilderment reigns.

The idea of my bikini-clad little sister wearing 3-inch heals and walking a showroom runway has me fabulously preoccupied. Forget that I will soon be grossly in debt or that I am, for real this time, vowing my love and commitment to another human being. My youngest sibling is in training to be almost naked in a room crowded with paying and clothed persons, a participant in something akin to the Miss America pageant without the talent and evening gown competitions.

To sort out this internal dilemma, I decided to share my confused state of mind with her. As it turns out, she considers the training and reshaping of her body to be an art form. “I am competing in the figure category, not bodybuilding … for me it’s not about developing bulging muscles, quite the opposite. I have been given a gift of a very proportioned physique and am using food and exercise (diet is 70 percent of the workout) to train my muscles, to sculpt my body into the most it can be, aesthetically. It’s a personal challenge.” Yes, I can understand the desire to sculpt one’s body with line and form and work toward ideal proportions, a rule to which Greek sculptors religiously conformed.

Famous British art historian Sir Kenneth Clark wrote in his 1956 book, The Nude, A Study in Ideal Form, “… man has contrived to make out of the raw material supplied to him in the cradle, and, from the point of view of form, all that was realized in the nude in its first creation [i.e., in the sculptures of Ancient Greek gods], the sense of healthy structure, the clear geometric shapes and their harmonious disposition … .” Clarke is alluding to a long-held attitude – which began with the Egyptians and was adopted by the Greeks and the Romans after them – to depict the perfection of the human form. During the Renaissance, artist Leonardo da Vinci drew the “Vitruvian Man,” the canon of ideal proportions that exemplified his pension for both art and science. His famous drawing of the male figure, spread eagle inside a square and a circle, is the most reproduced art image in the world.

Collage by Jules Masterjohn, “Vitruvian Woman: After Leonardo.”

Famous British art historian Sir Kenneth Clark wrote in his 1956 book, The Nude, A Study in Ideal Form, “… man has contrived to make out of the raw material supplied to him in the cradle, and, from the point of view of form, all that was realized in the nude in its first creation [i.e., in the sculptures of Ancient Greek gods], the sense of healthy structure, the clear geometric shapes and their harmonious disposition … .” Clarke is alluding to a long-held attitude – which began with the Egyptians and was adopted by the Greeks and the Romans after them – to depict the perfection of the human form. During the Renaissance, artist Leonardo da Vinci drew the “Vitruvian Man,” the canon of ideal proportions that exemplified his pension for both art and science. His famous drawing of the male figure, spread eagle inside a square and a circle, is the most reproduced art image in the world.

Knowing that my sister’s passion is deeply human and rooted in aesthetics, I decided to talk with a friend, Danielle Thibeaux, who is both an artist and certified physical trainer. Danielle enthusiastically agreed that “working out” is an art form. “An artist expresses their creative juices with brush, paint, paper, pencils, clay, water, etc. A fit person’s tools are the dumbbells, ropes, machines and benches. Art is an energetic expression – energy and emotion made visible. Body shaping is a visual, physical expression that leads into the emotional.” OK, I can get behind this contest idea. Maybe I could even “artify” my own body?

So, I headed to the Pilates Connection, being familiar with the fitness approach through a long-time friend. It turns out that owner Kim Moriyama has an undergraduate degree in studio art and used to create mixed-media sculpture with inanimate objects. Today, her expressive materials are people’s breath, movements, torsos and limbs.

Moriyama finds many similarities between art making and her profession as a certified Pilates instructor. During the sculpture-making process, it is important to view the artwork from all angles. The same is true when she is working with a client – she quietly circles her client, “seeing the human form from all angles, looking for the balance and symmetry of form that is unique to each person.”

Another shared quality is that of working from the “inside out,” where the inspiration or motivation originates from within and manifests on the outside with a piece of artwork or a beautifully fit body. “A client and I, through breath and intention, use movement and opposing forces, to create a body with long lines and a flowing contour form. A physically balanced body is an aesthetic body. There is unity within a balanced form that emanates grace. And people who feel good, look good.”

So, from an artistic perspective, my sister is a living artwork: part performance, part sculpture, part theater. Like using the perfect amount of red and blue paint to make a brilliant purple, she is combining carbohydrates, fats and physical activity to create a vibrant physicality. Her artistic medium is her body, which she is crafting through technique into an aesthetic object. The runway show is like a gallery on opening night where people gather, the art lovers, to see the “object d’arte.” The prize money is akin to the “Best of Show” award at the Durango Arts Center’s annual juried exhibit. This use of imagination rarely fails me and in this situation offered me a perfect entrée into an unknown world, where, as Danielle says, “The soul of the artist is like the sweat of the athlete.” •

 

 

In this week's issue...

June 13, 2019
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June 13, 2019
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June 10, 2019
2019 Hardrock taps out

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