The human face is probably depicted more often in art than just about any other subject matter, don’t you think? I haven’t actually counted. But, think of the early drawings of any child. A gigantic face, usually featuring eyes and mouth, sometimes a nose and legs, and /or arms. Hair is optional. Even a 7 or 8 year old will often draw family members and pictures of himself more often than just about anything (except for maybe robots or Spiderman). Although, I once had a 4-year-old son who drew nothing but cellos for months…but that’s another story!
The earliest cave paintings and such depict animals and hunters. Early iconic church art usually focuses on Madonna and Child, saints, and Biblical figures. Greek statues of people, often mythical characters, are well-know. Later, portraits were painted of wealthy and powerful people. Following that was a time when some artists took to the portrayal of “ordinary” citizens – soldiers, field workers, family members,etc. Impressionists such as Georges Seurat and Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted people “out and about,” as well as portraits. 20th century and contemporary sculptors from every corner of the world have made bazillions of pieces inspired by humanity. Even abstract expressionists such as Willem de Kooning painted people.
Humans, then, are a natural subject matter for art. When I was growing up, I was never a “girly-girl,” particularly. But strangely, I did love dolls. I collected more dolls as I grew older, and as an adult. I did not play with dolls in the “normal” way, however. I treated them more as aesthetic objects – art, I suppose. Eventually, I made a few dolls. I still have them around my house, and it makes me smile when I see one I especially like. To me, this fascination with dolls is somehow related to humans as artistic subject matter.
My husband and I often say, “Life is about relationship.” Relationships with people, messy as they can be, make life what it is, for better or worse. We long for those satisfying connections of companionship, intimacy, and understanding that can seem so illusive. We study our fellow humans to discover if a meaningful connection may be possible, and to discover why someone is charismatic or intriguing. Sometimes we are utterly disappointed by someone who seemed attractive; other times, we are pleasantly surprised to learn of beautiful qualities in a person once discounted as uninteresting. When fun or poignant interactions with others unfold, our lives are brighter and our experience deeper.
Although I am not the most gifted painter of people, they remain one of my favorite subjects, both as a painter, and as an art appreciator. Human nature is a funny and interesting thing.