Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Self-Portraiture 101

Oriental Potentate With a Kris, Self-Portrait by Rembrandt
Do you ever think about what you look like? What you really look like, not whether you're conventionally handsome or beautiful or conform to some commonly held stereotype, like the Marlboro Man or the Clairol Woman or Kim Kardashian--out of central casting. Have you ever considered your features in the way an artist creates a self-portrait, freed of judgements relating to things like social capital, and more influenced by the plasticity of the surfaces involved? Is your face for instance ruddy and round or narrow and wrinkled? If you're not exhibiting a stiff upper lip in your behavior, is your lip thin or full? Are you one of those people who were born with a natural form of Botox that gives your face the lush garden effect of an Archimboldo? There's a lot to discover in a face. Rembrandt was probably the greatest self-portraitist of all time and he did many of them, not out of vanity but because he liked to act and cast himself in varying roles? If nothing else his portraiture demonstrated the protean and labile nature of personality, but the discovery of himself was plainly inductive and accomplished from the ground up with the genius technique evinced is the drawing of his own hairs. Mirror, mirror…is the kind of value judgement the Evil Queen asks, but pick up a mirror and start to look at yourself, not from within but without. “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances,” says Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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