Sunday, January 26, 2014

Artist Post #1

Artist Post #1:

Nancy Burson, Beauty Composites (1982)

Image Courtesy:

Beauty Composites, by Nancy Burson, depicts two images of the 'perfect' female visage. Each image is compiled of several famous female celebrity faces. The first image (the image on the left) depicts the meshed faces of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis, Grace Kelly and Sophia Lauren. The second image (the image on the right) includes the faces of Brooke Shields, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, and Jaqueline Bisset. The artwork represents the "idealized" media face.

Nancy Burson is an artist and Photographer who has a prolific career within the art field. She has contributed to many projects, including, but not limited to, programs that age faces (used to help law enforcement), the human race machine, etc. She is currently an adjunct professor at NYU. You can see more of here here

To go into a more in-depth representation of the faces meshed, I have a range of images represented below to show the actresses that were combined to create each of the 'generic' beauty compositions.

The First Compilation:


The Second Compilation:


The artwork itself relates to the theme of culturally defined ideals with regards to beauty. Within the work, Nancy Burson is trying to show the characteristics favored, or considered to be "beautiful", among societal members. The art itself is an early example of computerized image compilation, yet hauntingly seems to suggest that beauty is not an individualized value: it is in fact easily mapped and compiled to create a standardized version of aestheticism. 

To critique the artwork, I believe this is a revolutionary piece. The artwork puts a biological and standardized spin upon the concept of beauty, making it impersonal and analytical. I think the work points out that beauty is only based upon the most "attractive" mapping of a face, and that societal standards can be pinned up as a simple algorithm. The work is also avant-garde in that it was one of the first projects to start using photo compilation. 

In a way however, I feel the work also has negative impacts. It was one of the first projects to prove that computers can create artificial beauty (or else enhance natural beauty). Though it inherently was against media ideals, the project may have unintentionally promoted the use of digital media to create an even more twisted and impossible image of the model, superstar, or female celebrity. It is just a conjecture, but this project's goal was to point out beauty is simply an algorithm... Magazines and other media sites use these algorithms to project an idealized projection of beauty, thus going against the original message of the artwork. 

Food for thought.



  1. aw dang it's really cool that you pulled up photos of all the people in her composite images! It does make me curious if any modern advertising does use averaged-out or generalized "beautiful" faces to edit their model photographs to. it is legitimately alarming that a project from the 80's is only more applicable to modern culture than ever.

  2. Really cool post! This reminded me of a psych study that someone did on standards of beauty. The researchers created a computer-generated layout of a face that was based on all of the typical traits that people generally find attractive, and they found that more attractive people tended to fit the layout better (they used images of famous celebrities).

  3. I like how the amount of pictures you included to show the authors portrayal of beauty.

  4. I love being able to look and see what the different faces were that combined to become her artwork. I think, seeing as the faces are those of famous people, like Meryl Streep, that a point could be made that beauty is not only about appearance, but also about the person's personality, or what part of a person they might see and like in a movie.