The Fallen Self

The topic of our first lecture this term asked the question, ‘what is the self?’.

Some say artists shape our conception of what makes a person, taking the traditional perception and disrupting it. Iconic figures are used as subjects of society yet only paintings and not based on feelings or opinions. The most famous artist, Andy Warhol, is well known for this. He selected images from magazines, newspapers or public photographs and used photographic silkscreen to create the portraits. He manipulates these images creating unique colour combinations portraying an intense version of the icon, Marylin Monroe for example. His work of Marylin stands for a symbol of American culture yet also a reminder of its brutal side.

Shot Marilyn, Andy Warhol 1964

The beginning of portraits however emerged 5,000 years ago, before photography was invented. A drawn, painted or sculpted portrait was the only way to record someone’s appearance. Portraits now show the power, beauty, wealth, taste or other qualities of the sitter, much more than just the recording.

Mary Hill, Sir Anthony Van Dyck 1638

When one does frequent self portraits, as I have done, you learn the structure of your face so well that you become very unselfconscious and free in the execution. [1]


This is a great way of summarising the importance of portraiture and how it can enhance your skills. Portraits are not just about empowering an icon or even to dishonor; they give artists the skill of avoiding objectivity and focus them to interpret the image from their own perspective.

Portraiture could also evoke the idea that it’s exposing ourselves in a way we never thought. Nan Goldin is an American photographer who is known for her deeply personal and candid portraiture. Her images act as a visual autobiography documenting herself and those closest to her. I think her work is really intriguing as it allows us to see what we wouldn’t normally see on a daily basis; the struggles of people’s lives they live.

Goldin after being battered, 1984

Just like Goldin, artists like Tracy enim also put there self on display showcasing the struggle to become who they are. They’re work somehow blurs the line between public and private hence don’t hold back on what they show. This confidence of wanting to get they’re real life story across as an artist is what is really inspiring about them.

My Bed, Tracy Enim 1998

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