Bodybuilder art / art about bodybuilding
You’ll often hear bodybuilding described by its practitioners and admirers as an art form.
Naturally, the medium frequently referenced is sculpture; it’s often invoked in the way that developing certain muscles is referred to as “sculpting”, and it leans on the languages of ancient nude statuary and the Neoclassical tradition.
Bodybuilders accept their place in the story of the idealised (predominantly male) body and they relish it. More than any artist in the contemporary era, the muscle-bound gym-goer carries the torch for the display of the body and the decisions as to what constitutes the ideal body. Now, more than ever, it’s acceptable to see muscles on display almost everywhere, and the depiction of the anatomical figure rests in the hands of advertisers and marketers instead of artists.
Transforming the body
For some years I’ve been interested in the history of the male figure in Western art, but that’s not the main reason why I’ve started to make art about bodybuilding.
It’s the actual process of transformation that I find interesting, and the determination behind that process. We’re all being physically transformed, whether we like it or not: children grow, we get old, and most of us get a bit fatter with time. Passive transformations like these happen to us without being noticed, until we end up in a very different state after a few years have gone by.
Bodybuilding is a process of wilfully transforming from one state to another through a violent process; it’s the ripping of muscle fibres on a minute scale that creates the need for the muscles to repair and grow. There’s a fascinating force of will that goes into trying to control one’s body and manipulate it into something it would not naturally become.
My own interest in the culture started when I was very little, with my mother’s friend Tony “Broad Back” Parris, a well-known figure in Barbadian bodybuilding. I remember visiting him and having him lift me far above his head with one hand – he was definitely a figure to look up to!
Bodybuilding as a measure of masculinity
Bodybuilding is an overwhelmingly male pursuit, and I think it comes down to our inherent social expectations. That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of amazing and noteworthy female bodybuilders – it’s just that most women don’t size each other up on the basis of how big their biceps are.
Men still compete with other men in a race to be the biggest, while women are still conditioned to want to become smaller.
The art of bodybuilding
Nowhere does this seem more pointed than when looking at the art and illustration that accompanies bodybuilder culture – the visual language of bodybuilding. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the photography of competitors, as the purpose of posing is to display one’s body to one’s best advantage, and photography for posterity is essential.
But I’m talking more about the way in which built-up bodies are interpreted in visual culture, by fans of the sport and amateurs, as well as by designers and illustrators creating images for wider consumption.
In so many images, proportions are distorted to those incompatible with human life… it’s as if there is no such thing as “big enough”, no pleasure in keeping within the realms of reality. The most superhero-like beings amongst us are still contorted and stretched beyond all recognition. It’s as though those who are most keen to absorb this kind of visual spectacle get hooked and start to seek out more extreme bodies than the pec deck could ever provide.
Not convinced? Do a Google search for bodybuilder art, and skip through YouTube thumbnails of bodybuilding videos. The dedication to freakishly Photoshopped images is impressive.
To me, it’s as if these bodies, that have been pushed to the edge of human capability and live in the realm of fantasy, are never seen as fantastical enough by their audience. They inspire thoughts of more are always pushed to being something more, something superhuman and, of course, superheroic.
Sure, it’s easy for a traditionally focused, representational artist to see something uncomfortable in the work of a predominantly comics-based segment of visual culture, but I see my art as celebrating the human endeavour and not just the end spectacle.
My approach to depicting the transformation of the built body
Instead of pushing the fantastical, spectacular aspect of the forcefully altered body, I take a more naturalistic approach, rendering bodies in a contemporary realist style. My goal isn’t to idealise any further than the model has been able to idealise himself; it’s to express admiration for the process of transformation – guided, willful, and of course, difficult self transformation.
Don’t buy this: the irony of selling anti-consumerist art
I’ve always considered myself to be in the anti-consumerism camp, but gradually, I started to question myself. As I started to lean towards selling my work (or at least considering making some new art for sale, something I had not wanted to do for a long time), I wondered if I could still be anti-consumerist. How true can that be of anyone who offers anything for sale?Consumerism is about more than simply buying, though; it’s the buying into the incessant bombardment of products and services that we’re told we need to become, and then remain, happy and acceptable to others. I knew this, but my aversion to selling came from something else.
For years I’d been the charity shop regular, happy in my penny-pinching, eco-smug ways. I also had a period of intensive making for a craft business I ran, which eventually led to my shrieking and running away from all aspects of routine production and making anything for sale. I basically overdid it and ended up hating it, so any way that I could make a living from art that didn’t involve selling art sounded absolutely perfect.
Combining conceptual and commercial art
In time I came back around to the idea of making work for sale. I had to play around with the idea of purposefully making something for sale that expressed my dislike for both selling and buying.
It started off by developing a screen printed image from my handwritten instruction: “don’t buy this.”
The great thing about it was that whilst it was displayed in a gallery setting, it would make perfect sense. After the point of sale, would it work as a message? The message would have been ignored, but the art would exist in the process of a buyer seeing and acknowledging my message, and either accepting or ignoring it… the process of selling would be part of the artwork.
Maybe it would work as a warning not to buy into the message at all – the message of conceptual art itself.
By shifting the artwork from a screen print – the pop art cousin in the fine art family – to print-on-demand goods, the whole thing turned into a conceptual art exercise.
The simple message
Thanks to print-on-demand I have little control over the actual product, but the fact that my message is applied to a product links me to it, or embeds me in it. Perhaps that’s the purest form of a conceptual work of art – an idea that can embed the artist within anything.
Each one of us would take something different from a product like this, which is essentially a message. Too simple? Too convoluted? Recently, I’ve come to appreciate the quality of simplicity. Artists can tend to overstate the obvious out of fear of appearing to lack depth, but this often ends in a deep pool of artspeak.
Mass-marketed pop as random deep thinking
Perhaps the most exciting thing about using a print-on-demand service to distribute my work is seeing what it’s applied to in actuality.
I love that someone chose this for a laptop skin. I love the curious crossover of selling non-consumerist consumables.
Letting part of the artwork-making fall into the hand of the buyer is actually a lot of fun – I hope that’s true on the other side as well.
How to buy (or not buy)
Original screen printed work is available in my shop.
The psychology of blog post titles: how being mean gets you readers
Do you want more visitors and subscribers to your blog? Of course you do – we all do. How can you get them? You’ve probably searched all over the internet, and I’ll bet you’ve found lots of articles.
Which ones did you click on?
I’ll bet you found three kinds of posts:
1. The negative-biased post
2. The survivor-biased post (or reverse-engineered success post)
3. The clickbait post
All of these draw on basic principles, which I call the psychology of blog post titles. What do I mean?
The Negative Post
Negative bias is real.
Bizarrely, it’s been proven that people are more likely to click on your headline if it contains negative superlatives like ‘never’ or ‘worst’ rather than positive ones like ‘always’ or ‘best’.
Even stranger, people respond to being manipulated by fear.
If you scare them witless and then promise them the solution to their problem in your post, then they’ll be compelled to click through to discover what to do.
I’ve seen this manifested in posts called something like, “x reasons why your blog sucks, and how to fix it.” So after the reader is insulted and a little hurt, she starts to think, “actually, my blog does suck… everyone else’s blog is better than mine… everybody else knows it… I need to fix this or I will fail.”
We’re all a little insecure, so having someone point out our fears and insecurities is going to grab our attention, and offering a quick fix is going to reel us in.
It reminds me of negging, where someone (someone sleazy) makes an insulting remark to another person in order to undermine that person’s confidence and make themselves seem more desirable.
If putting people down to build yourself up is your thing, then off you go. On the other hand, you can use the principle behind this negative bias more gently, and present a known problem along with a clever solution.
The survivor-biased post
Survivor bias is seen when conclusions are drawn using only the experience or opinions of people who have succeeded.
For example, you may see a headline that says, ‘how to make $3,000 in your first month of blogging’, and excitedly click through to read how you can do this, only to find that the article is about how the writer made $3000 in her first month of blogging because everyone in her apartment block used her Bluehost affiliate link to start their own blogs.
The only thing you get from the article is that to do what she did, you need to be her.
But you can’t be her. You’re you.
You can learn from successful people, but working backwards from their end points and plotting your own way to success is not feasible. You cannot reverse-engineer success.
What about all of the lessons you can learn from the people who got things wrong? People who may be dealing with the same issues as you are, but gave up? With negative bias, we are drawn to finding out what not to do, but with survivor bias, we are only presented with what someone did. The other side of the story stays silent… because there’s no-one telling that story.
Don’t mislead your readers by dressing up a “how I” post as a “how to” post. If you’re going to write a “how I” post, be clear on the steps that anyone can take to come to a similar result, or the factors that gave you an extraordinary advantage.
The Clickbait Post
We all know about the clickbait headline – how about this one: “She had no visitors or subscribers, until she tried this one trick!”
It’s hyped, and it offers conflict along with the prospect of easy (one trick) resolution. The thing is, when you’re reading it, you know it’s clickbait. Clickbait draws on emotion, outrage and curiosity, and it’s so powerful that even though you know it’s probably going to be dreadful, you end up clicking anyway.
Ask yourself if you want to trade clicks for self-respect. Maybe you do, I dunno.
It’s clickbait! Pure clickbait!
What kind of headline should you use?
Let’s face it – we want clicks, and we want results. Still, there has to be space for ethics in the world of online publishing. Leave the dirty tricks aside and use aspects of these headline tricks in a responsible way, and you’re more likely to win the respect of your readers.
Manipulating psychological biases doesn’t need to be sleazy…
After looking at the psychology of blog post titles and more, do you think that we’re able to create catchy headlines without straying into irresponsible manipulation? What do you think about these title tricks?
Is it printmaking or drawing?
And does it matter? I’ve made a number of text-based paintings, which I like to describe as the result of thinking about trying not to think too hard. Not thinking too hard is nearly impossible for me, so as an exercise these works were fantastic!
A loose process, tightly managed
There’s an element of relaxation in the process of abandoning total control of the paint and letting it do its thing, but even this is not really complete; the process is managed throughout. I’m not one for completely gestural work and to go in for that entirely would feel false to myself.
There are a limited number of prints, each one unique in its own way.
The process of drawing becoming printing
I think of these pictures as prints, although they are simultaneously drawings and paintings. Although they do not fit the mould of traditional printmaking, the work is approached as an edition, produced at the same time, and created by repetition of a specific process.
My handwriting is my specific graphic fingerprint, which is the same, yet different each time. This is repeated in the paint, the colours of which are the same each time, yet different, as the process of interaction varies across the surface.
Text in art and its associations
Of course, these are redolent of associations with Jenny Holzer, John Baldessari and Tracy Emin; for me, I like to think that they are the graphic link between the conceptually privileged thought/word and the thing/image.
The concept used in this example is something that I’ve batted around for years, and I know to be something that occurs to all people like me – people who have moved around the world and viewed it from new angles. The idea relies on the received notion of perspective, which should make it immaterial… but the word is a much heavier one than it should be.
It links to the idea of the words ‘immigrant’ and ‘expat’, and how we choose to assign these to people from different backgrounds.
How to buy:
Original prints are also available in my Etsy store.
‘Exotic’ is also available as part of my dissemination range from Zippi, where it is available as a print on a selection of items.
Why you probably shouldn’t start a blog
You’ve been clicking around the internet, looking at how you can start your own blog, but now you want to know if there are any reasons why you shouldn’t start a blog.
There are so many reasons why you shouldn’t start a blog – where should I start? As with any venture, there are pros and cons, but too often the drawbacks are glossed over by the most vocal proponents. So here are three reasons why you might find that blogging isn’t for you.
Now, let me stress that I’m talking about a commercial, for-profit blog – not a personal blog that’s meant only for fun, friends or family.
Reason 1 – You already have a life.
If you’re like most people, you already have a life. You’ve got some kind of social life, some kind of family life, and likely some kind of job.
Blogging can quickly turn into a full-time job, trust me. If you want to do everything properly to give yourself the best possible chance of building a successful blog, you’ll end up doing a lot of work.
Wait – scratch that – blogging is actually more like five full-time jobs.
There’s writing, taking photographs, creating graphics, posting on social media and sorting the technical aspects of web hosting including search engine optimisation. Then you’ll have to do the admin – negotiating with clients and sorting payments.
If you’re not doing these yourself, you’ll probably end up paying someone else to do them somehow.
You’ll end up squeezing all your blog jobs into that busy life, and probably squeezing something out of it. If you don’t want to stay up late/get up early/put your life on hold to pursue a full-time career that you were promised you could do in your sleep, well, think carefully about it.
You know, you probably shouldn’t start a blog if you’re not prepared to view it as a real job.
Reason 2 – You’ll end up mining your life for material
Instead of just enjoying that meal, you’ll have to take a picture of it.
Instead of just reading that book, you’ll have to type up a quick review of it.
Instead of just having a chat with your partner, you’ll end up conducting an interview.
You’ll end up so caught up in picking out things to write about that you’ll end up living in the third person – thinking about yourself doing things and picking the right words to describe them.
This gets old, and very oppressive, very quickly.
You should definitely think twice about how much of your own life you put into your blog, and how personal you want it to be.
Reason 3 – You’re not guaranteed to make money
Did someone tell you that you could rake in the money just by writing a blog?
Well, you could also win the long jump at the Olympics. It’s a possibility.
Lots of bloggers make money, but it’s not easy money. There are also lots of bloggers who have been slogging away at it and not made a penny.
It can take years to earn a living from a blog – just because someone says they made so many squillion in their first month doesn’t mean that you will, even if you did the same things they did.
There are things you can do to help boost your earning potential or remove roadblocks to earning, but as with any form of self-employment, it’s not guaranteed. There’s always the element of risk.
So ask yourself, “why are there so many bloggers writing about blogging?”
It’s because you’re prime customer material – you probably want to believe.
You will click on their affiliate links for web hosting, domains and “how to blog” books and courses. Blogging about blogging is big business!
Am I saying this because I’m a jaded, unsuccessful blogger? Well, I actually do make money from blogging, and yes, I do have affiliate links for web hosting and domains. I do think that blogging is an exciting, challenging and rewarding industry to be involved in, and I wish I’d known what I was doing back in 2007 when I set up my first website!
I do believe that making a living as a blogger is similar to making a living as an artist – it’s not easy and what works for one person won’t work for another.
You still want to write a blog, don’t you?
You’ve read all of that but you still don’t care – you’re here because you want to write a blog, and you’re gonna jolly well do it no matter what anyone says.
Fine, be that way! But seriously, if you’re determined then that says quite a lot about your chances of going the distance – just don’t be taken for a ride by the promises of easy riches, thousands of visitors overnight and followers beating down your door.
Here are some positive signs that mean blogging might just be ideal for you:
- You’re prepared for the work and to learn as you go on
- You know it might take years to get where you want to be
- You’re enthusiastic about your subject and love talking about it
- You want to help your readers
What if it’s not for you?
If you’re debating whether or not to start a blog, but you know your heart isn’t really in it, it might be because you’ve been told that you have to blog in order to promote your business. It’s true; blogging is a great way to drum up noise around your business and products, but when it’s just a necessary evil, it can be hard to gather the enthusiasm to blog in a way that’s meaningful enough to make a dent.
I’ll be looking at options for blogging when you don’t really know what you’re doing, and as I’m an artist, I’ll be approaching it from the aspect of promoting an art business.