Brain Food #796: To understand the world
No self-portrait is the same
Thoughts of the day
I have always been fascinated by self-portraits, an attraction which stems from a curiosity about how people truly see and understand themselves, but also about how they choose to share their own view of themselves with the world, often in a very different and much more brutal manner than today’s social media asks from us to do.
“The tool of every self-portrait is the mirror,” said film director Agnès Varda. “You see yourself in it. Turn it the other way, and you see the world.”
Creating a self-portrait is not only an artist’s way of telling one’s story, but also of helping themselves and their viewers (or readers, since a self-portrait can also be written), interpret the world, and their place in it. This is more true when we consider how our relationship with the world is dynamic and interactive. The world changes us as much as we change it.
And, like truth, self-portraits can also be far from beautiful. In the end, we are not necessarily expected to appreciate and admire only what is pretty, but also to see what is true, even, perhaps especially, the ugliness that still remains a part of living, and a part of us all.
Joshua Rothman, in a New Yorker article about doing life all over, turns to the self-portrait as a metaphor while he addresses that specific kind of sliding doors thoughts that cross our minds in late evenings, and also the unlived lives we all carry with us, springing from the paradox that we contain multitudes but our time is limited:
“Even as we regret who we haven’t become, we value who we are. We seem to find meaning in what’s never happened. Our self-portraits use a lot of negative space.”
If Agnès Varda’s words are true, to understand the world, first we need to understand, and accept, ourselves, both who we are, but also who we are not. Judging by Francis Bacon’s studies, it might take more than one attempt. No self-portrait is the same.
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