Van Gogh did self portraits because he had no money to pay models. Rembrandt used it as a vehicle to improve his artistic skills as well as to study the minute emotional states inflicted by muscular inflections on his face. Women artists of the 1800’s did it because they were not allowed access to live models and social restrictions made it difficult for them to paint publicly. Others like Frida Kahlo examined the different psychological underpinnings behind the ‘self’ using the self portrait as a tool, a vehicle. Gentileschi used the portrait as a mask that tended to hide the viewer from the self that the artist wanted to conceal. There are so many different reasons for creating a self portrait.
It is also instructive (and fun) to read the opinions of Art and Perception contributors to this art form.
Richard Rothstein said:
For reasons I can’t clearly explain I’ve never been comfortable with self portraits by any artist. So that’s what you look like or want me to see about you? Fine. Thanks. Now go away.
I made a self-portrait because I was a little sad and a little serious.
1. It is our way of experimenting; hence, they have personal value and are purposely non-commercial; 2. they are a way of saying, “Fuck you.”; 3. if you’re pretty, they are advertising; 4. they are a way of dealing with suffering; 5. self portraits are fun and need no further excuse
I do self-portraits to try to get a fix on myself. At the risk of sounding schizophrenic (or aged), the inner me and the outer me aren’t quite in sync. In my self-portraits I’m hoping to catch something of the inner me while not absolutely ignoring the outer me. It’s a great challenge.
Wouldn’t an artist doing a self-portrait look at herself critically, evaluating how the painting looks?
Artists making self-portraits in the mirror often have this strained “can I paint myself?” look.
My only self-portraits are like Richard’s: shadows or reflections noticed while photographing other things, or maybe not noticed until the picture is seen later.
I typically plan on developing one self portrait every year just so that I can look back at the changes in drawing style and influences using the one thing that hopefully will stay constant through the entire journey. My self. I have been toying with the color wheel and decided to move from the red – yellows to the blue – green sector and explore all the color nuances that come in this sector… and what better image to experiment this new palette of colors than my own face…
Sunil Gangadharan, ‘Self Portrait – 2007’, Oil on gessoed MDF, 40″ X 48″
‘Self Portrait – 2006’ here.