"I learned the truth at seventeen, that love was meant for beauty queens".
From the song, at seventeen.
Art, when used well, grants us a window into the world around us and, on occasion, into ourselves (hence Solomon's connecting beauty and the deepest longings of the human heart).
As a photographer, I've learned that people can use such creativity, like anything else, to either show or hide their actual nature, so it's good to question what the artist is actually intending in what's produced and, often just as important, what our relationship to that work says about us and our candor about life and what we see when we look in the mirror.
A few weeks ago, a model posted a confession on a photography site I belong to. I have posted part of it below, only slightly edited. Here's what she said:
"Over the past year I have thoroughly enjoyed being a mature model, I've met some wonderful, kind, generous, fabulous, creative and very funny people, some of them have become close friends which has been wonderful. I started modelling as a distraction, a hobby, something that allowed me a break from coping with challenges at home, and also to gain insight into Photography. It has accomplished all that but, and there's always a but, over the past 6 months it has become something else, and I have found it has changed parts of me that I'm really not comfortable with. I have STUPIDLY very slowly and gradually developed an unhealthy and damaging self image.
Now I know photographers, iron out wrinkles and crinkles, lumps and bumps, scars and defects, but over the passing year I have found myself wanting more and more of ME to be edited to get rid of those defects. It becomes addictive, because gradually over time you see the reaction you receive to perfection and naturally you want more, and before you know it, you just not happy with yourself at all. Its addictive validation and at my age, it can take away all I've spent years and years trying to accomplish in accepting myself for who I am. I suffered from crippling low self esteem, and its taken me most of my life to get over that and accept myself for who I am, and also other peoples acceptance of me and what I do with that. I'm losing that due to all the editing wizardry that allows me to delete the me that's come about over the last ten years.
So, I've made a decision, rather than ask Photographers to change me, I've decided to change what I do and how I model. I almost lost a very good friend on here because I had a completely unrealistic sense of how I should look, I was deeply ashamed that I had put a friendship before my appearance, it was then I realised I was damaging myself by trying to model in a world that is, well lets face it, not really set up for women in their 50's. I don't want to give up modelling, as I still enjoy it and there are so many fabulous creatives out there. So I have made a decision not to do any more full figure work, I will only be taking on TF work with people that match my commitment on a shoot, and I will be putting the emphasis on quality rather than quantity with shoots".
There's a wonderful scene in the film, the Agony and the Ecstasy, which tells the story of Michelangelo's painting of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. He is nearing completion of the famous scene of God creating man, when the Cardinal's arrive crying "obscenity!, obscenity!". A very telling exchange follows (which I won't spoil for you - it's a must see), but essentially, the artist declares how he has sought to express the truth of what God has done, both in creation and redemption, in his art, and that's all that any of us can really seek to do.
The model quoted above had realized that if we're not careful, we can spend our time engaged in actions and ways of thinking that actually defraud us of a true understanding of ourselves. However 'good' the intention may be, we can so easily find ourselves loosing what counts or, like those prelates in the film, not truly understanding what is happening before us because of miss-placed scruples or uninformed 'piety' or self-worth.
In the Gospels, Jesus often uses illustrative stories (parables) to both unveil and deliberately mask or hide precious truths about the nature of God and ourselves, and it's when we unpack these "it's like this" tales well that we can glean precious truths that deeply enrich us.
Life needs us to be honest about our poverty and our true needs to really grow. God wants us to see ourselves as we are, so we understand our great need of Him, and the love He gives to make us whole in His beloved Son.
The next time you're listening to some music, looking at a painting or image, watching a movie or play or reading a favorite novel or poem, ask yourself 'what is this really saying to me and about me?'
You may find you're in for a few surprises.