The intersection between anatomy, art and religion continues to be a divisive and sensitive issue since its locus is a conjunction in a grey zone that straddles the difference, and blurs the barriers between life and death, where clear demarcation between the physical and the spiritual are in tenuous co-existence. Deep seated aesthetic, moral, and religious sensitivities continue to be more disturbing than conciliatory. …

The intersection between anatomy, art, and religion has frequently resulted in a conflict between different views of the human body and of what it means to be human. The anatomist historically has stood at this intersection, often striving to integrate quite disparate roles—scientist, artist/dramatist, and priest/prophet.

An example of Craig Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning work.

…This fascination with death, and at the same time repulsion of it, even denial, may have begun in the eighteenth-century during the so-called enlightenment when a more obvious denial was manifested by an ostensibly rational attitude to the subject that could have been in fact motivated by avoidance. In our modern period, death has become even more traumatic, as technology and increased longevity provide distance from the familiarity of earlier epochs; the result being a difficulty in coming to terms with the fact we are going to die. There is a certain mindset that death is shameful and forbidden.

In part because of such repression, the mixture of eroticism and death so sought after from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries reappears in our sadistic literature and the sensationalist interpretations of violent death in our daily lives. The association of sex and death has never fully disappeared; it just seems to manifest itself in sublimated ways; an aesthetic of death was no longer desirable but rather, and contradictorily, admirable in its beauty.

On 9/11:"A week after the attacks, at a press conference for a series of concerts featuring his music, the avant-garde German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen "the greatest work of art ever. That characters can bring about in one act what we in music cannot dream of, that people practice madly for ten years, completely, fanatically, for a concert and then die. That is the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos. I could not do that. Against that, we, composers, are nothing."

The exploration of the impossible is, in the composer’s view (Stockhausen), a defining principle of true art, thus when the impossible, “a jump out of security, the everyday,” becomes a reality, it constitutes apparently the greatest work of the entire cosmos. Again, is there any space left for the ethical element once aesthetic appreciation of unprecedented atrocity comes into the picture? The fervent reactions to Stockhausen’s ideas insinuate that artistic preoccupations with the humanely impossible as well as the morally inconceivable have so far been unjustifiably (but not unpredictably) overlooked as they belong to a future, dispassionate, analysis of 9/11. Such an analysis would allow for a morally free and thus more ethical explication, as it would permit the symbiotic operation of many different faculties — politics, aesthetics, ethics, realism, — without any of them ruling over any other.  … there is a need for aesthetic appreciation when contemplating a violent event such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks. What is more, appreciation of the beautiful, even in case of a 9/11, seems necessary because it is a key to establishing an ethical stance towards terror, life, and art. It should be stressed that independent aesthetic experience is not important in itself but as a means to cultivating an authentic moral and ethical judgment. … ( Emmanouil Aretoulakis )

Craig Walker. Denver Post.

Interestingly, Goethe himself, while lamenting the separation of the two cultures, was keenly aware of the deep tension between the scientific quest for certain kinds of knowledge—specifically that of our physical interior— and the humanistic imperative to preserve
human dignity. These two ideals collide in the figures of the Prosektor and the Proplastiker in Goethe’s story of the young and ambivalent anatomy student Wilhelm Meister. Confronted in the dissecting room with the arm of a young woman who, despairing of
love, had drowned herself, Wilhelm visualizes the lovely limb encirclingthe neck of her lover. The image overwhelms the aspiring anatomist: “The repugnance to deform still further the splendid production of Nature was at variance with the demand which man,
thirsting for knowledge, has to make on himself” (Goethe ). A visiting Proplastiker (plastic anatomist) sees Wilhelm’s hesitation and suggests an alternative to anatomical destruction: modeling in wax and other materials. The visitor explains “that building up teaches more than tearing down, joining together more than separating, making what is dead alive, more than making what is already
dead still further dead. . .”

Kathryn A. Hoffmann:Beyond the doors to the Fragonard collection lies an entirely different display world. The Fragonard collection is dark and moody, spotlights dramatically highlighting the curves of varnished figures. Fragonard's écorchés (flayed figures) are real dried and prepared humans and animals. The museum's web site makes a distinction between the pieces the museum classifies as pedagogical and those that are 'in theatrical attitudes', establishing pedagogy and theater as impossible bedfellows: 'The pedagogical preparations are devoted to studies of a single precise system; their rigor and the absence of staging readily distinguish them from the other flayed figures, fixed in death in theatrical attitudes.'

The Proplastiker sees his art as an imitation of divine creativity— even of divine restitution. Clai

 his work represents a first step “to put life again into the rattle of the dead bones,” the Proplastiker refers to Ezekiel’s vision of the Lord’s resurrecting the dead, noting how the prophet “had first to see his valley of bones gather together and join themselves in this manner before the limbs
were able to move, the arms to touch and the feet to raise themselves upright.”  (Goethe)…

Centuries before Gunther Von Hagen’s Bodyworld, there was man named Honore Fragonard. Some people have not heard of this man, but quite possibly have seen his work. No one knows his exact technique. He would, however, dissect two corpses a week, developing what would become his special recipe of injected wax. While the corpses were still supple, Fragonard would inject the veins, arteries, and bronchial tubes with colored wax. Sometimes he would use tallow mixed with turpentine. He would stretch them on a frame to dry.

Craig F. Walker Denver Post

While Fragonard was working on his cadavers, rumors had spread questioning his sanity. It was said that the figure on the horse (the famous Horseman of the Apocalypse) was his fiancé. Supposedly the young lady was grief stricken that her parents would not allow them to marry. Fragonard then immortalized her. Of course, years later, upon inspection of the corpse, the body was proved to be just a man, as he had a penis….In 1771, Fragonard was released from the school. His boss Bourgelat had branded him a madman. He disappeared for 20 years and lived quietly, although creating curiosities for collectors around France. He was re-discovered during the Revolution of 1792, and tried to master his work once again. However, he did not have youth on his side and died at the age of 66 in 1799.

Jean Baudrillard: …Reality itself founders in hyperrealism, the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another, reproductive medium, such as photography. From medium to medium, the real is volatilized, becoming an allegory of death. But it is also, in a sense, reinforced through its own destruction. It becomes reality for its own sake, the fetishism of the lost object: no longer the object of representation, but the ecstasy of denial and of its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal.

“Damien Hirst, a contemporary artist from Britain, revealed that he considered the September 11 terrorist attacks as a “visually stunning artwork: The thing about 9/11,” he told BBC News, “is that it’s kind of like an artwork in its own right. It was wicked, but it was devised in this way for this kind of impact. It was devised visually. . . . Of course, it’s visually stunning and you’ve got to hand it to them on some level because they’ve achieved something which nobody would ever have thought possible. . . . So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing.

"Could it be that Hirst's statement, far from erasing pain, constitutes a different, other kind of ethical appreciation that blends artistic pleasure with concern for real pain, and human suffering with concern for aesthetic appreciation? In other words, is a symbiosis of aesthetics and ethics possible in the case at hand?"

This statement looks outrageous at first sight, to say the least. To view this major terrifying incident as a visually stunning achievement is dangerously close to prioritizing its supposed aesthetic value as spectacle over its unquestionable social, political and ethical dimensions. Hirst, however, is going beyond merely expressing his repugnance by emphasizing the visual potentials of such an event as a work of art. Not only that; he wishes we could congratulate the perpetrators on their ability to make possible an impossibility that, paradoxically, as I will explain later, is an indispensable condition for great art’s existence, thus commenting not only on the tele-visual representations of 9/11 but also on 9/11 itself as an artwork whose inherent wickedness is integral to its supposed aesthetic powerfulness or beauty. Is the artist then only interested in such an atrocity as a work of art, a beautiful product? If so, where does all the pain go?”

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