The Inevitable 2D Beauty of Pictures

The history of pictures is the history of depicting three dimensions in two. Making pictures requires an unavoidable distortion, as the real world gets pushed down onto a flat surface. This is true even of pictures that contain 'perspective' as the canvass itself is still 2D. Pictures get divided into categories based on the method used to produce them - drawing, painting, photography, film, computer screenshot, animation, mosaic. But no matter the method each picture is the same, in that it is an account of a human looking at something. In the Cave of Altamira in Spain there are many pictures, some that were executed as early as 35,600 years ago. These images include accounts of a cave person seeing wild bison. 

 Detail at Altamira

Detail at Altamira

Now that smartphones are everywhere people get to enjoy making pictures in super huge volume. It's easy. And it's estimated that over 1 trillion photos are taken annually. In the distant future humans may look back at the pictures shared on 21st Century social media and regard them as an antiquated method of depiction, the same way we currently view cave scribbles. Most of the pictures that we enjoy now will probably have very little effect on the future viewer. Even after a few days they seem boring. But some just might last much much longer. 

 Selena Gomez in the most popular Instagram picture of all time (6.1 million Likes)

Selena Gomez in the most popular Instagram picture of all time (6.1 million Likes)

Ancient Egyptian pictures remain perhaps the greatest pictures of them all. Thousands of years old and they're still interesting. And the reason for this may come down to the way that they dealt with seeing the three-dimensional human form and then depicting it in two-dimensions. Essentially, they took the inevitable distortion that occurs and pushed it to the extreme. Rather than even attempting to depict the human body accurately overall, as it would appear to the human eye, that decided instead to show each individual part at it's clearest angle. This began by showing the torso front on because that was the best was to emphasise its characteristic V-shape. The head however could be viewed best not front on like the torso but side on in profile. And to them it often just looked better if the hands were either both left or both right, while also making the fingers the same uniform length. Feet are not very distinctive front on so they would be shown side on too. Finally, while the head was in profile the eyeball was depicted front facing. Why did the Egyptians do this? Because they thought it looked good.

 Ancient Egyptian distortions of humans

Ancient Egyptian distortions of humans