Monday, May 29, 2023

Facial Anomalies

One of the things they study at the Penn Center forNeuroasthetics where I am an artist in residence, is facial anomalies. These include the obvious, such as cleft palate but the spectrum continues into the more typical such as scars, or other so called “disfiguring” conditions that leave a face “distorted”.  All in quotes because the stakes are high.  Check these out.

 It is fair to say that we as humans assess each other’s and our own faces and if there is anything that deviates a little too far from what we expect, we notice.

Unfortunately, biases against facial anomalies do exist in society. People with facial anomalies may face prejudice, discrimination, or negative judgments based on their appearance. Yes—even by persons who claim they don’t. This bias can stem from societal beauty standards, cultural influences, lack of understanding, fear, or ignorance about these conditions.  This is what they study at PCfN. The good news is that the bias seems changeable.

Facial anomalies interest me personally for a few reasons.  One is from the POV of self-image.  How does it affect a person if they feel like a freak—even if they aren’t, say, in the case of body dysmorphia?  Second: a zillion times I have been asked about why I distort faces when I draw them.  What’s it all about????  I wish I knew.  All I can say is that it’s a very strong, irresistible compulsion.  Until they look like that, I am massively unsatisfied and will destroy or alter them until they do.  They are to me, extremely gorgeous.  To others, I can’t say.  But to me, they are right, and all other faces are not-right.

Another factor in this piece was relating facial anomalies to “glass anomalies”. What constitutes an assault on our assumptions about health, integrity and wholeness in glass and stained glass design itself?

One thing about being a stained glass artist is dealing with broken glass.  In fact, all glass is broken in that that’s how you get it to be the desired shape.  Intention matters, but only so much.  Basically, you break it into shape.  And of course, it breaks on its own sometimes. I have had many a call an email from someone really panicking because something has quote-unquote broken.  Not that it matters in the grand scheme of human affairs, but people are really biased against broken glass, as if there was something wrong with it!  But…not all breaks signify damaged goods and sometimes it just adds to the story and look of the piece in a positive way. However, usually its seen as disfiguring and a very bad thing indeed.  Suddenly its no longer perfect!! (as if it ever was!)


But of course, the breaks often add to the content in significant ways, actually improving it: Check out these cool historical examples: (AND THESE TOO!)

Take that, Rene Descartes!
Silence! Its golden.
Upside down peace sign on the pope, what could it mean?
Bisected cupid (a vast improvement)

Most breaks in a window do not cause any issue with the structure.  Virtually ALL stained glass windows have breaks in them and plenty of them if the window is old.  The only time I worry is if they are prominent enough that they interfere with the design.  Like if they are right through the face.......I think you see where I am going with this!

In this piece, I wanted to address my own preciousness with the people I draw. I wanted to challenge the notion that breakage=damage. I wanted to see if I could intentionally break the faces right where it would matter.  Although, what I found was that in many cases, I couldn’t go through with it.  For one thing, in order to up the ante, I made sure the painting was some of my very best.  Much harder to make myself intentionally break it! 

It is said that ugliness, dirt, weeds etc are things that are perceived as being “out of place”, things that might be perfectly acceptable...somewhere else, thank you very much..... Breaks in glass fall into this category.

All this reminds me of how our aesthetic sense works: we are on the lookout for certain things.  We tend to have a preference for the “normal du jour”, we really like beauty (which could be said to be normal du jour that’s exaggerated in such a way that we are turned on rather than off) and we are destabilized by things that are anomalous. To put it really bluntly, we tend to find them un-attractive aka UGLY.   

And yes, I am more than familiar with the fact that some DO see them as attractive. I am one of them and that’s why I wanted to make the piece—to create an opportunity to reconsider that what upsets the apple cart is actually an opportunity to expand our definition of the beautiful.


Technical deets:

My windows was painted with Reusche stencil black enamel mixed with the awkwardly named "red for flesh".  I paint on a sandblasted surface.  Each roundel has about 4-5 firings at 1225F.

Assembling with lead






1 comment:

David Hopper said...

Judith, thank you for your art and words. You are a unique soul expressing yourself in glass with rarely touched-upon subjects. I brought out your two books, J.S. Works 2011 -2014 and The Path to Paradise. "One of the highest ideals of humankind is to love what's loathsome and to embrace the unknown." J.Schaechter. You shine a light on dark paths and encourage a few to step forward. Did you crack the faces or paint what looks like crack lines? Regards, David Hopper