Why the self portrait?

One of the first assignments given to me when I was a college freshman in a 100 level drawing class was to do a self-portrait. Lots of grumbling from the class.

I remember receiving extra credit for bringing one-foot-square mirrors in for the entire class. Butt-kisser, is what you’re thinking. Actually, my husband works for a glass factory, and mirrors cannot be recycled because of the silvering on the back (which makes it a mirror). I guess it was two-birds-with-one-stone situation: brownie points from a tree hugger.

Looking – no, I mean staring – into a mirror, at yourself, is nothing less of foreboding. I don’t care if you’re the most “comfortable with yourself” person in the galaxy, you’ll still find clogged pores that you know will turn into something scarier. However, it’s not just the lines and wrinkles that scare most artists. I often wonder, when I look at a self-portrait, if that particular artist was dissecting his or her physical, emotional, mental, even psychological aspects. I also wonder if you’re not a visual artist, do you see that within the plane of that self-portrait?

Artists are crazy people; make no mistake about that. However, I debate that a straight-up self-portrait could be one of the most telling pieces about an artist. Look within the eyes of that portrait. You’re literally looking into the mirror that very artist was looking into.

I found the writings of Jeanne Ivy more than interesting. She can peak the reader (whether a visual artist or not) by telling the “kinds” of self-portraits of the past.

“Since the fifteenth century and the advent of the mirror artists have modeled for themselves in their own works of art. Whether it is an in-depth exploration of the artist’s own psyche or simply because as a model, the artist is clearly the cheapest and most available. Whatever the reason, nearly every artist, in every medium from painters to sculptors have attempted this exploration of self.” (from the introduction of the exploration of self-portrait written by Jeanne Ivy and found here: http://userpages.umbc.edu/~ivy/selfportrait/intro.html )

To flip through a plethora of self-portraits, take a look here: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/search/self%20portrait/1

I believe I will always gravitate to Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits, knowing how tormented she was. I find something scary in Vladimir Makovsky‘s self portraits. And as playful as it seems, Norman Rockwell’s multiple self portraits in one image is maybe more of his different sides. We may never know.

Would it be amiss if I didn’t include one of my own?

©Lynette K. Waters-Whitesell & Waters Color Studio.

Self Portrait as Geisha