Venus of Willendorf
Updated: Nov 20
I first met her in Art Appreciation. Art one-oh-one, where the professor was young and fresh and he’d only been teaching for two years so he was still excited about things. I first met her there at community college improving my GPA so I could get into real school. It was five years after I’d run out of money and stamina the first go-round. Since then, I had gotten really good at pretending at grown-up things. The art class was because I needed something easy. I also took Intro to Humanities and World Regional Geography, and I liked that I obviously knew more than those teenage kids who hadn’t been anywhere or done anything yet. But Art one-oh-one made me feel I could be an artist, even me, who was always so good at telling stories, but who couldn’t draw or paint or even mold play dough. And if, because of this class, I could do art, I could do anything. This bright-eyed professor, who seemed too young to be called that, was really an artist, but art didn’t pay the bills, and if he had to have a day job, teaching about art was maybe the next best thing. I’m not sure if I appreciated art more after the class than before, but I never forgot that tiny, bulbous, carved figurine. I first met her early in the semester because the professor taught art chronologically, and she was practically the first art ever made. Probably there were dozens of photos in the slide show that day of the cave paintings and stone carvings and engraved bones of the Upper Paleolithic, but I don’t remember any of those. The picture on the screen at the front of the classroom made her look enormous, but she is actually only eleven centimeters tall where she sits in a museum in Vienna. You can buy actual-size replicas in the gift shop made out of soap or even chocolate. People all over the world display the soap in their guest bathrooms because it sparks conversations about their recent European vacations. Someone might be eating her delicious chocolate bosoms right now. From the moment I first saw her round, fertile belly and disproportionately large breasts and prominent lower lips I knew she was something special. I wanted her tattooed on my arm or maybe my own supple breast. An actual-size replica, of course, the chubby little goddess, she would wobble and bounce with my every step as if on a miniature trampoline, a naked symbol for sisterhood and solidarity and vaginal pride. I wondered about the artist. Did she consider herself an artist? Was Stone Carving one-oh-one supposed to be her easy class? Was she surprised when it inspired her to do more with her life than hunt and/or gather? Did she shame her family by making art instead of making babies? Was she proud of her curly-haired goddess with the teeny-weeny arms? Did she teach the cave children to paint the walls and sculpt with clay and carve their own tributes to the gods because she needed a day job to pay the bills? Did she make other things? Did she sell jewelry and trinkets at the prehistoric farmer’s markets? Was she voluptuous like her limestone doll? Did someone love her? Once upon a time, someone took a rock and, with something hard and sharp, probably a bone, shaped the rock into a fat little lady, and now, thousands and thousands of years later, people see the lady, the Venus, in a museum or in pictures on the internet and wonder about how hard life must have been for skinny girls back then.
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