Art in the glorious array of forms which it takes is firstly a medium for self-expression. Artists are typically familiar with their own visions without looking too deeply into themselves. The majority of art comes from those emotions and thoughts which the makers are most passionate about. Thus, they often don’t have to look very far for inspiration.
Perhaps the most difficult, bewildering, and complex piece of art an artist can strive to create is the self-portrait. Just as the writer has the autobiographical work, so the painter and sculptor have the self-portrait to master. Self-portraits are not selfies in the modern sense because an iPhone selfie doesn’t usually pass as art. Very little creativity is involved in snapping those pictures. A true portrait, when done properly, takes more than just putting on a goofy pose and looking up at a lens above your head.
The main reason a creative may find a work focused entirely on oneself to be difficult to accomplish is simply because it requires a much deeper examination of oneself. Exploring one’s values and the way in which one sees oneself needs to be taken under consideration. The portrait is the highest and perhaps purest form of self-expression, thus the pinnacle form of art.
Here we shall explore some of history’s most bizarre, iconic, and even comic self-portraits of several artists, each a master in his specific genre. Also, just because one specific portrait is mentioned for each artist does not mean an artist has only made one self-portrait. Many famous painters and illustrators have completed more than one such work classified as a self-portrait.
The Van Gogh Portrait
Vincent Van Gogh was a troubled individual; artists always are. They are perpetually fretting over something, concerned with minutest details. The famed artist of the impasto style of painting completed some 36 self-portraits in his own lifetime. Vangoghgallery.com hails the painter as being “among the most prolific self-portraitists of all time.” The specific portrait above was one he did in 1889. The bandage on the ear is a unique feature. And is it just me, or does this make him look a little like Benedict Cumberbatch?
Lois Mailou Jones’s Self Portrait
Lois Mailou Jones, an African American painter and educator, specialized in landscapes and portraits in her artistic expression. In her old age (in 1970), Jones was able to visit Africa – for the first time! Yet her art always showcased a rich taste of African cultures. Three decades prior, she had finished a work called Self Portrait which is seen directly above. The title is self-explanatory. Similar to the Van Gogh portrait before, Jones’s work features artwork within her own art. The sculpted figures in the background hearken to her roots in African art.
Dr. Seuss Mirrored as the Grinch
Theodor Seuss Geisel, known to the literary world as Dr. Seuss, was quite a character himself. And like many artists and writers, he often pictured himself as one of the fantastical characters he drew so frequently. (For example, J.R.R. Tolkien often thought of himself as a hobbit.) This is an intriguing self-portrait which makes the admirer smile.
The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sort of relationship seen in the bathroom depicts Dr. Seuss looking into a mirror, confronting Mr. Grinch. This illustration was included in the collection Your Favorite Seuss. Dr. Seuss completed this drawing of how he saw himself in the morning the day after Christmas 1956. Almost a year later How the Grinch Stole Christmas! would be published.
A Hidden Renaissance Portrait
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was an Italian artist of the Renaissance era. Everyone shortens his name by simply calling him Michelangelo. He is the man responsible for such memorable religious paintings as The Creation of Adam and all of the figures on Sistine Chapel ceiling and statues such as David. In a sketch of Vittoria Colonna, the artist furtively included a caricature of himself. If you look at the sketch above, you can see this tiny caricature standing on the woman’s lap. He’s bent at the waist and concentrating his energies on the portrait itself.
A Divine Self-Portrait
Like several other artists already mentioned above, German painter and illustrator Albrecht Dürer rather enjoyed making self-portraits. Last on our list, Dürer’s Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar makes an extremely unique and bizarre addition. Why? There are a few reasons. It was the last of his painted self-portraits. More importantly, the artist painted himself as Jesus Christ! Given the frontal view, the positioning of his hands in front of himself, and the long brown hair, Dürer gives his spectators an imitation of Christ in his image. Pretty weird.
We’ve seen the comical, the fantastical, and even the divine running through famous artists’ self-portraits. It’s interesting to see how they saw themselves or liked to see themselves particularly in various stages of their lives. Hopefully, if an artist, you have been given a taste of what the greats strived for in their self-portraits. These few examples can inspire more beautiful works of self-expression for generations to come.