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MA Drawing Research Paper

MA Drawing Research Paper

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Published by Angela Ho

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Published by: Angela Ho on Aug 23, 2012
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The Search for Identity in Self-Portraiture
MA DrawingAngela Ho
 
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Introduction
Self-portraiture has been a popular and enduring tradition in the history of western art.It could be a portrait of the artist, or a piece of art involving him/her in a larger work,e.g. a group portrait. According to Wikipedia, many historian painters are said to haveincluded depictions of specific individuals, including themselves, in painting figuresin religious or other types of composition. Such paintings were not intended publiclyto depict the actual persons as themselves, but the facts would have been known at thetime to artist and patron, creating a talking point as well as a public test of the artist'sskill
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. This would suggest that self-portraiture is perhaps one of the most difficulttasks to carry out in art, at least in former times. Thanks to the invention of photography, artists nowadays have an alternative way of looking at themselves, andalthough it seems to deprive painting of some of its importance, it can be used as asource to study a specific vision and many contemporary painters are still keen to doself-portraits. Photography can make self-portrait easier to achieve, because we cannow look at a still image of ourselves as a reference to draw, we can measure theproportion of silhouette much more precisely and objectively, and unlike a mirror, itcaptures your reflection in movement and not in a concrete way.But why are artists interested in painting themselves? The reasons can be varied anddepends on the type of self-portrait he/she wants to achieve, but all self-portraits havethings in common: it is a conscious act, our mood and self-awareness indicate theprojection of our features, shadow, direction and other possible subjects in particularorder, while the authorship shows uniqueness and it will potentially deepen self-knowledge through expressing or exploring psychological truth
2
. Self-portraits are notalways open to the public; in fact many people (not only artist) like to do self-portrait
1
 
Wikipedia contributors,
'Self-portrait' 
, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 31 July2012, 17:21 UTC, <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Self-portrait&oldid=505127377> [accessed 4 August 2012].
 
2
W.Ray Crozier and Paul Greenhalgh,
‘Self 
-
Portraits As Presentations of Self’ 
,(Leonardo, Vol.21 No, 1, 1988) pp. 30.
 
 3
for personal reasons, e.g. erotic or narcissistic pictures. It can be used as a vehicle tomake you feel good or explore the unusual side of you, but most of us are tooembarrassed to reveal this privacy to the public
 – 
we want to keep this secret, butconsciously enjoy the vision. Frida Kahlo is one of the legendary self-portrait artistsin the art world; she painted herself in many of her narrative paintings withsubconscious memories and encounters. They are expressive paintings of lifeexperience, although many of her work involved her face, very few of them focusedon her appearance, even the close up self-portraits. She always narrated herself withselective subject matters, and used her distinctive appearance as a source to deliverher own unique story. Another example could be Rembrandt, who used self-portraiture to question his persona, role and position in society, it was an expressiveand liberating influence on him, and contributed to an understanding of self-portraiture as a fundamental means of self-scrutiny
3
.There is one type of self-portrait that is very popular in the history of art; artistspainted themselves painting in action.
Sofonisba Anguissola
,
 Marie-Denise Villers
,
 René Magritte
, David Hockney and many others have tried to paint this scene. Thisparticular scene of painting in action has additional strengths: it offers viewers aninteresting sight of a visual studio visit, to reveal a scene of work in process
 – 
paintingin a painting. At the same time the image confirms the artist as a professional, becauseit gives him/her identity. The two former artists I mentioned are less famous than thelatter two, and their particular self-portraits in the act of painting are both shown asprofile pictures in Wikipedia
4
. It indicates that this type of self-portrait isrepresentational and open to the public, because it is inviting viewers to look at theartist painting. It also has the symbolic meaning of craftsmanship. The painting doesnot concern the appearance of the portrait, but the juxtaposition of the objects. At thesame time, the genuine artist who painted the painting has therefore stood out of the
whole scene and viewed himself from an anonymous viewer‟s viewpoint, or painted
the reflection from a very large mirror. This method to paint the scene echoes the
3
Patrick Procktor,
‘Self 
-
Portrait’ 
, (London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991) pp. 48.
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Wikipedia contributors, 'Sofonisba Anguissola', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,13 May 2012, 05:58 UTC,<http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sofonisba_Anguissola&oldid=492318326> [accessed 5 August 2012].
 

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