The Art of Self Perception

She held up the drawing to me- a self-portrait. I asked her what she thought of it and she said liked it, yet admitted she could have demonstrated a wider range of value. I agreed.

I didn’t want to say too much. I didn’t want to criticize. That certainly that wasn’t the point. The drawing was merely a mark in time; the beginning of her process. Who was I to judge her perceived self? I explained to her the first time I showed my mug to the public. Mind you, this was not the first self-portrait I ever did, merely the first one I was actually comfortable enough to show.

“Your nose isn’t that big,” someone assured me.

“Your nose should be bigger,” someone else declared.

“Your face is fatter,” I was told.

And so it went. I received an equal amount of praise and criticism from friends and family alike... whether I wanted to or not.

A portrait is challenging enough, but a self-portrait even more so. We know ourselves better than anyone else but can easily get caught up in preconceived ideas about who we are. Consequently, we tend to view ourselves in a subjective light revealing our own biases and criticisms of ourselves through the rendering of facial features in terms of exaggeration, distortion, addition or omission. In some instances, these embellishments are deliberate, but often this is not the case. Not to mention the complexity of technical skills it requires to draw a face in the first place.

This exercise in self-perception is designed for the artist to learn to view the world more objectively and thus, yield a work that rings true with its audience because it comes from a place of honesty. Finding this honesty in a self-portrait takes practice.

It has been over a year since the last self-portrait I painted. After my student presented her work, I felt it was time to do another. So yesterday I drew one (pictured to the right). I think it's good, but there's always room for improvement. We are all just works in progress. Please feel free to comment on any of this.