© Diane Arbus |Self-Portrait, 1945

© Diane Arbus |Self-Portrait, 1945

A case for making a self-portrait

Nosce te ipsum | Know thyself

A self-portrait is a representation of an artist, drawn, painted,  sculpted, photographed or written by the artist. Although self-portraits have been made by artists since the earliest times, it is not until the Early Renaissance, in the mid-15th century that artists began to frequently depict themselves as the main subject.

You might wonder where this practice originated; popular wisdom suggests that it began with the advent of better-quality yet cheaper mirrors. At this lower price, mirrors began to be more widely available, affording artists of various mediums a sudden means with which to contemplate their reflections at length.

At Seymour, we typically love to dive deep into the self, but we thought for change that it might be an interesting exercise to go for surface swim.

So we invite you to undertake the creation of a self-portrait. Carve out some private time to sit in front of a mirror and look at yourself. Try to peel away your identity layer by layer. Start with an exploration of your features one by one; isolate each of them – nose, mouth, chin, forehead, etc. End the topographic survey of your face with a long look at your eyes, the famous ‘mirror to the soul’.

Let your gaze be drawn into them and then begin to explore how your inner states affect your outward appearance. For instance, how do your features change depending on your mood? Once you’ve spent sometime looking at yourself from the inside, why not try a bird’s eye view? Fly out of yourself toward the ceiling and observe yourself as an ‘object’ in the room. Consider your body and its place in the space, notice your natural posture, etc.

Then chose a medium with which to express this newly discovered version of you.  Even if you think you can’t draw, you can. Just look in the mirror and put pencil to paper and place the outlines of how you see yourself on paper. Remember how Picasso approached portraiture, even if a representation of the human form isn’t figurative, the essence of the person is still retained. Or compose a photograph that you feel really captures your nature, or write a description of yourself; any means of expressions that you’re comfortable with is fine.

We hope you’ll spend at least an hour exploring the landscape of you. The longer you sit and look, the more odd and enriching the experience. Like repeating a word over and over, and finding that in repetition it becomes almost an abstraction, or conversely mutates into new meaning. The idea is to go past the you that you take for granted, and to discover another you within your heretofore accepted identity.

The term portrait come from the word portray which means literally to trace, draw forth. Draw yourself forth.


M.U. 2014

Published: February 25th, 2014

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