Last month I saw the exhibit Figuratively Speaking: A Survey of the Human Form at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. What was particularly interesting to me about this exhibit was the chronological progression. The earliest, Renaissance and early modern works attempted to portray the human form realistically. The works of the early twentieth century moved to more abstract representation – Picasso, of course, is the most famous example of this trend. In the more modern works, though, was a surprising slide back to realism.

The focus of the exhibit was on the art, not the intellectual climates in which these works were created and bought. Yet it made me wonder: Does the move back to more realistic representations of the human form reflect a shift in our understanding of the human condition? Have we moved from a sense of unity to fragmentation back to unity? The idea that we are fragmented beings was certainly pervasive in artistic and intellectual circles throughout the twentieth century. Are we seeing in this newer generation a more optimistic view of the human self, one that understands us as whole? Or are is it just an artistic trend, no more or less?