Occult Anatomy: The Forehead and Identity
In one of my first drawing classes in high school, one of our very first projects was a portrait of a classmate. Our wonderful art teacher, Gloria Bass, went to great lengths to take us out of our "canned" way of seeing and representation. We did the compulsory Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain upside down drawing Stravinsky exercise (if you haven't tried it, it's really worth your time—time which may well become Missing Time if done properly) and others of probably her own brilliant invention.
The one that impressed me the most was a lesson essentially about the forehead. Ms. Bass had us take a few minutes to render our neighbor's face on sketch paper, then she walked around the room collecting most of the sketches. In her huge stack of sketches, she good-naturedly showed us example after example of weirdly misplaced eyes, wrong hairlines, and incorrect proportions all around. Then, explaining our mistakes, she said something that I had never thought of or realized outright: the eyes are fairly in the exact center of the head.
I suppose what it meant is that we weren't so consciously aware of our foreheads—the area that takes up fairly half the space of what we all see in the mirror every day. The irony is that the forehead, symbolically, tends to generally represent identity. Obviously my 9th grade class was a small sample of very young people, but this same artistic overlooking/misjudging-of-the-forehead phenomena is common.
Because, traditionally, if there are markings on the forehead, it had better be all about God with no fooling around. Remember the controversy and outrages over Madonna's appropriation of a Hindu bindi? It's simply sacred space. This is also evidenced in contemporary, grandiose self-inflicted martyrdom. Recall the hoopla around sad sack Morton Downey Jr.'s false skinhead bathroom attack, in which a swastika was carved (backward) on his forehead. And there's the recent pathetic "backward B" big-bad-black-men-for-Obama-attacked-me farce.
Note how a lot of forehead-related news is race and/or religion oriented. Interestingly, the forehead is likewise used as a metaphor for racial and identity type issues in science fiction. Trekkers refer to "forehead aliens"—meaning aliens who look pretty much human save for anatomical forehead embellishments. The ubiquitous alien forehead even inspired an Onion story with the headline, Star Trek Introduces Alien Character with Totally Different Forehead Wrinkles.
There are some pretty cool foreheads too—notably the Klingons' ridges and the Cardassians' spoon-inspired fancy. Is a crazy forehead just an established code that makes a character very not-human—a fairly simple way to denote a unique alien race? Maybe, but the forehead thing does take center in a lot of the stories.
Still, it seems we might have we have this powerful symbol that is largely overlooked by our conscious notions of our anatomical self. Could it be precisely because the forehead is so humble--plain and not as variant across gender and race as other facial features and qualities? Perhaps the forehead's trans-boundary uniformity the reason for all the symbolism—a secret tabula rasa of sorts onto which we place our ideas of identity.
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