West – Portraiture, Essay Example

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Essay

There are a number of reasons why an artist chooses to create a self-portrait; among them, it can be an effective way of visually depicting one’s personality, temperament, and history using the visual ‘language’ with which artists are most adept.  Shearer West suggests that self portraits can “have the allure of a private diary,” (West 163) but cautions the viewer not to accept them at face value, given that the artist can intentionally choose to misrepresent themselves.  If given the opportunity to create my own self-portrait, I would similarly like to employ this ‘false’ diary method so as to challenge my viewers to separate fantasy from truth and reality from the imaginative.

In fashioning my identity through self-portraiture, I would borrow a stylistic device from Parmagianno and use mirrors to reflect myself back at my viewer.  In such a way, Parmagianno engaged his audience “in a kind of visual game which forces the viewer to look in a mirror and see the artist looking back” (165).  I would like to use this technique, but rather than using a convex mirror to distort my image, I would instead use a series of multiple mirrors such as those which are found in funhouses.  This would offer the viewer a range of different versions of myself–perhaps a series of faces at different ages and stages of my life, or myself employed at different tasks or activities.  In composing this series of self-portraits within one larger self portrait, I would represent the ways in which I see myself, others see me, as well as a number of ‘decoy’ faces which might offer the viewer a peek at my fantasy-selves.  The task would remain with the viewer to determine which faces were ‘real’ and which were a product of my imagination.

Throughout the chapter, Shearer West revisits the idea that self-portraiture is much less autobiographical than viewers might like to believe.  He suggests that the conventions of a certain period, as well as an artist’s need to present themselves in certain ways, to please particular audiences, all play a part in shaping the ways in which artists depict themselves.  I think that this ambiguity also demonstrates that artists are no less sure of who they are than anyone else.  Indeed, one of the prevalent themes of my own self-portrait would be the unknown nature of the self.  Through multiple renditions of my face I would illustrate that I have yet to reach the point where I can accurately depict who I am, where I have come from, and where I expect to go.  To make this point unequivocally clear, I would have one central mirror amongst all the rest which I would leave intentionally blank.

Works Cited

West, Shearer. “Self Portraiture.” Portraiture.  Oxford University Press, 2004.

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