Dimitrije E. Panfilov
The human being is an emotional sculpture which cries and smiles. Physical disorders, defects, or imperfections can be surgically improved on condition that our emotional costume is not damaged. Hardly anyone will opt for an operation merely because he/ she has too much time or money. It is psychological suffering that brings people to ask a plastic surgeon for help. Michelangelo said: "See the shape within the
marble and release it!" Plastic surgery can release the patient from his/her complex. Today we can rectify Sigmund Freud, who stated: "Anatomy is destiny." We are now able to influence destiny positively.
Aesthetic plastic surgery (cosmetic surgery) strives to achieve the highest possible harmony between different parts of the body and the whole body, between face and body, also between anatomy and psychology, between body and soul. Harmonia suprema lex. About half of all operations are performed on the face and the other half on the body. Any surgeon performing aesthetic (cosmetic) operations has to possess psychological knowledge, empathy, a high level of ethic integrity, but also the forming talent of an artist.
Aesthetic surgery rests on five pillars: science, psychology, handicraft, art, and business. The plastic surgeon should be able to identify the wishes of the patient, to define his/her problem and to realize the wishes of the patient in the operating theatre and not his/her own ideas of anthropometric perfection.
Plastic surgeons learn their operating technique from their surgery teachers, but we learn the rules of anthropometric harmony from sculptors - from Phidias, Praxiteles, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Rodin, Dali - and also from countless painters. The artists have established the rule of sevenths applicable to the whole body, but also to the face. Boticelli's Venus is a good example: hair is the upper seventh, the forehead is two sevenths, the nose is two sevenths, the distance between the nose and the mouth is another seventh, and the last seventh is from the mouth to the chin. The ancient Greek painter Zeuxis (fifth to fourth century
B.c.) used faces of different women to create his famous portrait of Helen the beautiful. For her beauty's sake, the Trojan war became inflamed.
Umberto Eco wrote the wonderful Storia della Bellezza (History of Beauty) which we recommend as supplementary reading. Eco starts with quotation of Hesiods story of the wedding of Kadmos and Harmonia. The muses present sang hotti kalon, philon esti "who is lovely has been beloved, who is not lovely has not been beloved". The ancient Greeks had an expression which unifies the harmony of body and soul kalokagathia to be found in the verses of Sappho and the sculptures of Praxiteles. The superb ancient Greek ideals of beauty are harmony, proportions, symmetry, eurhythmy, and analogy.
Eco writes the whole history of beauty on the basis of the works of sculptors, painters, philosophers, and poets because they were the only witnesses of beauty trends and their creators.
The medieval ideal of beauty was inspired by the mathematical beauty of the universe. Thomas Aquinas proclaimed his beauty ideals: proportions, completeness, clarity, and brightness. Chroma - the colours - would be the cause of beauty. In the Middle Ages the priests forbade all means for beautification. In the Renaissance the human being was in the middle of universe and the attributes of beauty were charm and sensuality. During Mannerism there were ars geometrica and homo melancholicus (geometric art and melancholic humans) - Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürrer, and Sandro Boticelli tried to show the beauty of the spirit which was shining through the face: it was melancholic beauty. Friedrich von Schelling wrote in his Philosophy of Art (about 1803) that a good portrait has to assemble many moments from the life of the person painted in just one single picture.
Then there are the achievements of science, like Copernicus showing that human beings are not the centre of the universe. They are restlessly escaping from the uselessness of life. All social changes, including civil and industrial revolution till the cyberage, find their reflections in the arts.
The contemporary artists Carolle Schneeman and Miray Orlan use their bodies in performing art to be both an image maker and the image itself. Marina Abramovic and her partner Ulay force visitors of their "Imponderabilia" to body-touch and to chose the male or female principle at the entrance. Sabine Runde describes the "body as a temple".
Religious values and family importance are diminishing - our body becomes the last refuge. That is why fitness centres, the cosmetics industry, beauty spas, and cosmetic surgery are booming. We live in the age of the body cult, not only of new body consciousness. Plastic surgeons are not the trendsetters, but are very careful observers.
Cosmetic surgery treats those body areas which are visible to everybody. That is the reason why laymen judge not only the result of our treatment but also the indications: should something be operated on or not. We are thus obliged to enter dialogue with public opinion.
Bernd Guggenberger writes that good-looking students receive better grades for equal performances than less attractive ones, and handsome criminals get less severe punishment for the same offences than ugly criminals. Our outward appearance is a social phenomenon and not only a self-image. It is the image that others make of us and we are influenced by their reaction towards us. "Beauty promises happiness", says Stendhal. Our pleasant appearance is not a purpose in itself, but it is an instrument to offer more chances in social and professional competition. According to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, beauty is also the principle of sexual choice.
Among animals, the male specimen is more beautiful than the female (lion, deer, rooster, etc.). Beauty in animals indicates strength and determines leadership. The poet would say: " Even among flowers there is no justice." William Hogarth admits, however, that the human female body is more beautiful than the human male body because of its sinuous silhouette (clepsydra figure).
It is a great pleasure and privilege that plastic surgeons are often invited to the studios of the artists who are working there, because many of us are very fond of fine arts, some of us paint, sculpt, or make
Things have changed since Louis Daguerre in France found out in 1837 how to fix the picture to paper. Photography is cheaper and more "democratic" than oil-painted portraits. It is important how to illuminate the photographed face. The Rembrandt effect with a classical look is 45° oblique from above left or right. The "butterfly effect" with illumination from straight above gives a glamorous look. Illumination from below produces a startled look - it is rather undesirable.
More and more often plastic surgeons are invited to museums to give presentations of their interpretation of beauty and arts. After having been invited to Frankfurt's Museum for Applied Art in 2003, I was invited, in spring 2004, together with contemporary French artist Miray Orlan to the New York Museum of Arts and Design. Miray Orlan presented her "Carnal art" and my part was "Anthropo-design: aesthetic surgery is becoming human applied art".
I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to upgrade my profession to the level of other arts, for the privilege of being allowed to enter their "temples" of arts, for being accepted into the extended family together with other artists. There is a fundamental difference between an artist and a plastic surgeon. The artist (painter, sculptor, installer) has only to think of himself/herself and to follow his/her inner voice, without compromising for public taste. The plastic surgeon, on the other hand, has to forget himself/herself, and always aim to satisfy the patient, not necessarily the criticism of his/her colleagues.
High-tech achievements make the success of our treatment more and more probable and reduce the recovery time and the rate of complications. Worth mentioning are endoscopy, radiofrequency surgery, lasers, ultrasound-assisted liposuction, tissue glue, etc. Most operations nowadays are performed under intravenous sedation on an outpatient basis. But there
is a problem: technical development is faster than our ability to work out ethical consequences. Many things are possible, but the question arises: Can it be morally justified? Is the virtual world running into the cyber-age without pause for thought? Is the creature trying to become its own creator? The Homo ipsifaber of Christoph Zellweger? Lec could be right with his statement: "Technology is on the way to acquiring such perfection that man will be able to survive even without himself!"
"Beauty will save the world", Dostoyevsky said. It is not easy to discuss something which is not possible to define, like beauty, love, and happiness. René Descartes wrote: "Common sense (reason) is spread in the most justifying way in the World. Everybody thinks he has enough of it." With beauty it is the opposite. Nobody has enough of it, a plastic surgeon could add.
For me, the human being is still the greatest wonder of this world. Let me end this with a quotation by Anton Pawlowitch Chekhov: "Everything concerning the human being should be beautiful - not only the face and clothes, but also one's thoughts and actions."
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