Friday, January 6, 2017

Photo a Day: Me!

I've always been fascinated by artists' self-portraits, especially those painted in the era where we have photographs to compare what the artist looked like in reality. Do most people see themselves the way the camera sees them? Do they see themselves the way others see them? Do they see themselves the way they wish others see them? Or perhaps they see themselves the way they fear others see them.

Here are how a number of extremely famous (and a few not-quite-so famous) artists depicted themselves.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is well-known for her scorn of traditional ideas of female beauty, so it is no surprise that her most famous self-portrait emphasizes her mustache and full, unplucked brows. She stares directly at the viewer with pride and perhaps even a bit of derision. She does not soften or sweeten her looks in this portrait, but show her own unvarnished truth about herself and her "imperfections."

Kahlo's husband, fellow Mexican artist Diego Rivera, also painted multiple self-portraits. Rivera also seems to emphasize his imperfections, adding an extra-sagging chin, several weals on his face, and droopy, pouched eyes. And yet, there is a decided intelligence, perhaps even a bit of a smirk as he looks at himself. Like his wife, he sees value in himself beyond his physical looks. 

Lesser-known Austrian artist Egon Schiele painted a number of self-portraits. Rather than depicting himself realistically, Schiele was a figurative and expressionistic painter who painted himself disproportionately, with grimaces and twisted facial expressions, often turned at strange angles and with his body contorted. Schiele seemed to want to show not his looks, but his thoughts. He was conscripted into the army during World War I and served as a guard and escort for Russian prisoners, and no doubt this experience shaped his self-image.

Pablo Picasso painted numerous self-portraits, from realistic charcoal drawings to his more familiar cubist style paintings. He emphasized his eyes, staring boldly at the viewer with a solemn expression. 

One of my favorite self-portraits is Norman Rockwell's triple self-portrait. This photograph is one of the reference photographs Rockwell used when painting the self-portrait. His sense of whimsy is clear in the blank reflection in his glasses, the pipe dangling from his lips, and his splay-kneed posture, as well as the fact that the self-portrait is signed by the artist as part of the painting within the painting.

Perhaps the most famous self-portrait of any artist is by Vincent Van Gogh. His expression is grim as he turns his face from the viewer but angles his eyes outward almost in a glare, as if daring them to judge his work. The swirling background around him is reminiscent of his turbulent thoughts and emotional state. His features, in comparison to the photograph, are realistic but starker and more angular than reality, with sharp cheekbones and a narrow, pointed noise and chin. The portrait is not so much flattering as it is haunted.

So what does this have to do with today's Photo a Day subject of "me!"? Well, I'm terrible at taking selfies, so I considered drawing a picture of myself. But I'm even more terrible at drawing. So instead, I opted to depict myself not as I see myself, but as my daughter sees me. She is a wonderful and enthusiastic artist who loves to draw pictures of everyone, including her friends at school and her family. This is a recent portrait she drew of our family.

For those of you who don't know my family personally, from left to right, depicted are me, my husband, my 7-year-old son, and my 5-year-old daughter (the artist). We each have very definite hallmarks that are present in every portrait drawn by my daughter. She herself always sports full yellow hair (she's a curly blonde), a purple dress, and some kind of jewelry or hair accessory or crown. My son sports brown hair and blue eyes; my husband has short, stubbly blond hair and blue eyes. And I always have red (occasionally red mixed with brown) hair, blue eyes, and bright red lips (I don't often wear lipstick, but my daughter is fascinated whenever I do).

So how does my daughter see me? She sees me as part of our family, as someone who is always smiling. She sees me as someone who is beautiful and happy and loving. She sees me as I sometimes am, but as I want to be always. Seeing who I am in her eyes makes me want to be that person. She sees the "me!" I could be. She makes me want to be that "me!".

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