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. . . .