“Let us go on talking about ourselves and our own particular little niche in life. The world is too vast a place.” –The Colossus of Arcadia E. Phillips Oppenheim
Today I read a blog post by one of my fellow artists that encouraged the art of self portraiture. Hmm. Not something I do very often – ahem – I mean ever. I’m not a big fan of photos of myself, much less drawing my face.
But there is something fascinating about an artist’s self portrait. It is a window into their life, their thoughts, their persona reflected in their own creation. I browsed the web for self portraits and came across a Russian artist from the early 1900s with whom I was unacquainted.
One of the first Russian women to gain real fame in the art world, Zinaida Serebriakova painted images of her surroundings and the people in her country. She valued life and beauty, worked in oils, charcoal and pastels. She was a wife, mother, daughter and experienced her share of tragedy during the revolution in 1917. She began her successful art career as a young woman, and painted many beautiful self portraits that stand out to me because of her charm, her smile, her friendly, welcoming expression. The props and surroundings she chose give you a glimpse into her life: paints and brushes, her children, her dressing table with jewelry, perfumes and combs. I was fascinated by her. While most self portraits portray serious expressions, without hint of smiles, Serebriakova’s portraits intrigue me with her pleasant, almost mischievous grin.
I began thinking on my own self portrait. What would I include? What expression would I depict?
We all seek to be known. It is more difficult for an introvert, but art provides a unique tool for self expression. It is daunting to create and to share such a seemingly naked depiction of one’s soul in a self portrait, almost embarrassing really. But I find it a worthy challenge.
It is a challenge to know and observe yourself more fully. It is a challenge not to be humiliated by the endeavor of depicting your own face, which we criticize more brutally than any other. It is a challenge to share yourself and your artistic creations with fellow human beings. It is a challenge to become a bit vulnerable by revealing yourself, in the attempt to make this vast world with all it’s stories and people seem a bit closer.
I think it is a good exercise, at least for me, in overcoming fear and accepting the person that I am, at this moment, in this place, and in turn, recognizing the unique life in others.
I spent a few brief moments one lazy morning, before I’d even brushed my hair, and did a practice self portrait sketch. Sitting at the old desk in my room, looking into the antique mirror on the wall, I practiced not for the final self portrait for which I aim, but rather I practiced to give myself courage.