Jul 30, 2007

Thoughts on Art and Self-Revelation

by Rene Allen

I’m taking a drawing class and the last meeting is tomorrow night. Homework is to do a self-portrait. I am thinking, uh-huh, sure, terrifying idea, to put myself on a piece of paper. Way too much self! And that's the bind. Everything about this self-portrait, be it good or not, reveals something about me to anyone with an even remotely curious psychological bent.

Take for example that I had go to Wal-mart to buy a hand mirror because currently every mirror in the house is glued to a wall and no where near a place where I can draw. Since I can’t very well do a self-portrait by Braille, although the idea merits consideration, I had to get a mirror I could carry with me to my art table. Now, I am sure this anonymous person in the great critical void who will analyze my painting with a Freudian sneer on her face will think I have an attitude. She will think I don't give a fig about what the back of my hair looks like when I leave the house because I've never seen it. I can tell you how it feels: short, smooth and straight. And, despite what Madame Freud thinks, I know that the back of my hair is a non-descript bottled dark blond because my hair-dresser always hands me a mirror when she finishes my hair and says, “Do you like it?”

More about this self-portrait. “Just do anything,” said the instructor. “A line drawing, contour, shading if you want to.” One woman who was visiting our class from another had already done hers. It looked just like her, soft-grandmother cheeks and gray-white hair framing her face all the way to her earlobes. She was proud of her work and should have been. She was also pretty in a nice, I-am-sixty-five kind of way. I think she was proud of that, too.

So, I am thinking, basically I don’t like what I look like so why should I reproduce it? This is what I mean by too much self. I’m sure it will show up, like it did the last time I had to draw myself, and made my head about three times as big as it should have been and because I was caught in the throes of a really good anxiety attack, drew my body off the page so no one could see it.

See what I mean? There is something about a blank page and pencil that requires truth, be it through the written word or through drawing. Why didn’t this art instructor assign a nice flower to draw, or a landscape, or chair, or a cat? No, instead she said draw yourself and bring it in so we can see it.

Here’s a little bit more about this self assigned to do a self-portrait: I’ve always been on the camera side of photographs. Now this woman is telling me to put the camera down and look in the mirror. “Draw what you see,” she said.

Two eyes, a nose and a mouth . . . ears, hair, a bit of a double chin . . . a middle-aged woman, certainly, but wait a minute—can you see the honest soul there as well, the one who is terrified to show you so much of herself—her keen desire but limited skills, how she wades into the waters of acceptance to see what will happen if something less than perfect is presented to the class?

A self-portrait? And I always do my homework. . . .


  1. Interesting, how we see ourselves so differently from what we appear to others. I always thought I was such an elephant, but I look at pictures made when I was 30, and I really had a pretty good figure. Where did the elephant go?

  2. What a scary assignment, Rene! I can't think of anything scarier than drawing a self-portrait, not even writing a book!

  3. Oops! That "anonymous" was me (i.e., Joyce DiPastena). I'm on vacation, using my sister's computer, and I can't remember my google password. Sorry about that!

  4. Wow, Rene, I don't know if I could stand an assignment like that. I have enough trouble exposing my soul in my writing. I'm not sure how I would handle exposing how I see myself physically to the world.

  5. Well, when I took my work in, the other students and instructor all agreed I made myself look older and rounder. No big deal . . .

  6. Maybe because I haven't really done it, or maybe because I'm simply unaware of my own feelings, but I don't think it would bother me to expose myself. Oh, once it would have.

    I remember it took me twenty years before I could even think about, let alone mention the time I paraded down the aisle and across a crowded cultural hall without my coat, completely unaware that my dress and slip were both tucked into the back of my pantyhose. The thing that bothered me the most was knowing how broad my bottom was! Anyway. When my husband finally caught up with me and told me he added a clincher that I have finally learned to laugh at quite hilariously: He whispered, "But I don't think anybody nboticed!"

    If I lived through and learned to laugh at that, I rather think I could handle almost any other kind of exposure.

  7. Okay, Anna.That's a good one. Every woman's worst nightmare. It takes a great soul to confess those kind of experiences and laugh about them. My hat's off to you! Rene

  8. I am fascinated by the thoughts you shared, Rene, and the comments from readers. I see so many incredible and talented women berate themselves for not being good enough. Most of us don't recognize the contributions we make in this life. I am working to be in a place like Anna seems to be at now...comfortable with who I am and why I am here. Not long ago, I had a friend ask why I seemed to be afraid of turning 50. "You'll be the same person then as you are now," she told me. AHA! That was exactly the thing I feared. I didn't feel I measured up and I wanted to be someone better. That moment was so enlightening for me.


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