Why Aren’t Classical Statues Very Well-Endowed?

iStock
iStock

If you spend enough time with classical statuary, you may begin to ask yourself some questions that seem more appropriate to middle school health class than an art history discussion. Namely: Is it just me, or are all these dudes kind of … small?

I’m not the only one who’s wondered at the ancient penis sizes depicted in art. Even while assuming that most statues feature flaccid penises, why wouldn’t classic sculptors have made their subjects more well-endowed? Surely nude sculpture is as subject to exaggeration on this topic as locker room talk.

As it turns out, a lot has changed over the last few thousand years, including how we think about penis size. Ellen Oredsson of the blog How to Talk About Art History explains in one post that “cultural values about male beauty were completely different back then. Today, big penises are seen as valuable and manly, but back then, most evidence points to the fact that small penises were considered better than big ones.”

Photographer Ingrid Berthon-Moine, who took close-up photos of the testicles of Greek statues as part of her 2013 series "Marbles," reiterated this sentiment in an interview about her photos with Hyperallergic. “Ancient Greece was a highly masculinist culture,” she explained. “They favored ‘small and taut’ genitals, as opposed to big sex organs, to show male self-control in matters of sexuality.” In his play The Clouds, one of Aristophanes's characters describes the ideal male form as having “good chest, a clear complexion, broad shoulders, a moderate tongue, sturdy buttocks, and a small genteel penis.”

But it was important to show some skin. As art historian Anna Tahinci wrote in a 2008 article in the journal Sculpture Review, nudity was “seen as the ‘perfect form’ for the sculptural representation of the human body” in ancient Greece and, later, Rome. “Consequently, nudity in sculpture came to represent the ideals of innocence and purity.”

Frederick M. Hodges, a scholar who writes about circumcision, noted in a medical history journal in 2001 that “the Greeks valued the longer over the shorter prepuce [foreskin] in relation to the length of the entire penis, and the smaller over the larger penis as a whole.” Indeed, an elongated foreskin was considered both attractive and more modest than an exposed penis (ancient Greeks considered circumcision barbaric and associated it with slaves). An erect, bare penis would have been considered dishonorable, according to his research, and thus, in most art, the male genitals are featured “unretracted, teat-like, and neatly tapered.”

Another scholar finds that while Greek men were shown to have properly dainty genitals in public, they often have “rakishly protuberant phalluses in private,” as seen in erotic art, especially on vases. In the 1995 article “The Unheroic Penis: Otherness Exposed,” Timothy McNiven chalks this up to giving men portrayed in art “the best of both worlds."

Big or small—or even removable—a statue's genitals are a sign of the times.

[h/t Jad Abumrad]

Bob Ross's Son Is Holding Painting Classes at a Tennessee Library

Bob Ross.
Bob Ross.
Bob Ross Inc.

For anyone who has ever logged on to the internet, Bob Ross needs no introduction. The painter, who passed away in 1995, spent the years 1983 through 1994 hosting the PBS series The Joy of Painting, where his soothing manner and bubbling-spring landscapes comforted viewers.

On several episodes, Bob’s son, Steve Ross, could be seen painting his own nature scenes as guest host or assisting his father in answering reader questions.

According to WVLT, Steve Ross is now set to offer painting classes at the Blount County Public Library in Maryville, Tennessee. He will be joined by Dana Jester, an artist who also appeared on The Joy of Painting. The workshops will be held March 4 through March 8 and will cost $125 per attendee, who will also be expected to bring their own supplies. The classes will last the entire day.

If locals are curious and don’t want to commit to the fee, Steve and Dana will be hosting a free demonstration on March 5 at 6:30 p.m.

After his guest spots on his father’s program, Steve appeared to retreat from public life, though clips of his appearances were apparently popular on Tumblr for their inadvertently risqué banter. (“It can be dirty, it doesn’t have to be clean,” and so forth.)

Bob Ross also taught classes even while The Joy of Painting was airing. He purportedly received no income from that show, earning a living via merchandising and appearances.

[h/t WVLT]

New Website Shows You What Synesthesia Looks Like

This is how Bernadette Sheridan, who has grapheme-color synesthesia, sees the name Aiden.
This is how Bernadette Sheridan, who has grapheme-color synesthesia, sees the name Aiden.
Bernadette Sheridan, Etsy

If you happen to find yourself seeing music, smelling color, or unusually combining two other senses, you may have synesthesia, a possibly genetic condition that affects about 4 percent of the population.

Since synesthetes perceive the world in such a unique way, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many of them pursue work in a creative field. Billy Joel, Vincent van Gogh, and Pharrell Williams are just a few examples of well-known artistic synesthetes.

For the rest of us, the whole concept can be a little hard to wrap our minds around. To help us out—and to help herself make sense of her own senses—artist Bernadette Sheridan created a website called Synesthesia.Me that illustrates grapheme-color synesthesia, which causes her to see letters as colors. If you type in a word or phrase, the site will produce a row of color blocks that correspond to those letters.

synesthesia.me color-blocks for 'mental floss'
We think our color blocks match our personality perfectly.
Bernadette Sheridan, Synesthesia.Me

As Sheridan explains in a post on Medium’s health and wellness vertical, Elemental, each person’s grapheme-color synesthesia manifests itself differently, so the letter-color combinations on Synesthesia.Me are specific to how Sheridan sees words. That said, there are some common combinations across many synesthetes—the letter A, for instance, is often seen as red.

Not only is the site a fascinating foray into the mind of a grapheme-color synesthete, it could also help you bring a bright, personalized pop of color into your home: Sheridan runs an Etsy shop where she sells prints of the color blocks. She’ll email you a high-resolution, printable portrait of any name or word for just $12, or you can order an already-framed version for $96. Looking for a special engagement or anniversary gift? Sheridan also makes them with two names.

bernadette sheridan etsy synesthesia portrait
Dawn and Pete make a colorful couple.
Bernadette Sheridan, Etsy

[h/t Medium]

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