All Art is a Self Portrait

July 14th, 2009

wip storm
work in progress, storm

Now there are certainly exceptions to the statement I made in the title, but I feel like any art in which we are expressing a part of ourselves is a kind of self-portrait. It is an expression of our inner life, our inner workings. It is perhaps a truer self-portrait than any traditional self-portrait could be because it shows what's going on beneath the surface.

It's like the quote that I shared in last week's CED post:

Painting is just another way of keeping a diary. ~Picasso

I think this is why so much of my art has women in it. Even though the figures are not meant to be a direct representation of me, they do represent a part of me. And sometimes they even look a bit like me. I've noticed this in the art of others as well. Their figures look a bit like them and express something that's going on within them.

The above piece of art is a work-in-progress. The idea came from a doodle that simply flowed out of me as I was listening to a podcast. I was imagining thoughts streaming from the figure's mind and emotions streaming from the heart, which combined in this sort of storm cloud that the figure observed curiously. Ideas often start off like this, simple doodles in a sketchbook and if I don't bring them to life, they often tap me on my shoulder (as this one did throughout the weekend) until I express them more fully. It's usually best to get an idea out when it's somewhat fresh because that's when it's most powerful and most relevant.

When I do bring ideas to life, I feel more connected to myself and to my spiritual side. Art is a bit like keeping a diary, yes, but it's also a way of communicating with myself, of understanding what's going on beyond the conscious everyday stuff. When I'm able to express that, I feel calmer and more alive.

Do you see your work as something like a self-portrait? How does it express your inner workings?

18 Responses

Very nicely written. Totally agree with you! “When I’m able to express that, I feel calmer and more alive.” Know exactly what you mean! Thanks.

ohmygosh YES!
when i had my paper doll art exhibit, so many people remarked on how my paper dolls look like me. they were little beings of all ages, men and women, all with their own unique character… and yet they really did all look like me.
they are me, how can anything i create not be me? i love that about art.

I think it’s natural to have pieces of ourselves or how we perceive ourselves in all that we do. I’m kinda afraid to do portraits but it’s something I want to do down the road. I just need to take that leap an open up even more than I have so far.

Thank you for all that you put into your art, this blog, and your challenges :)



i work in lots of different media- oil (tho i haven’t for a while), photography, mixed media. but somehow it all hangs together- literally. i can put my oil landscapes or dog paintings with mixed media and photography in a 10×10 booth and in some strange way it works. and i believe that has to be because it’s all a reflection of the artist. i have a woman who has purchased 3-4 of my landscapes and was strangely drawn to some flower photos in a gallery only to find that they were mine. i seldom put figures in my work (although i have been using faces lately) but i think it has to do with an energy- color and composition and something undefinable… to think about-

I think that’s why I loved the Sound challenge, drawing to the music. I felt that it was showing more of me than normal.

Otherwise, drawing just makes me feel at peace. I challenge myself to draw a different subject each day, and this really gives me a lot of confidence.

I show up in my writing through my voice. I have had friends read an essay of mine in a collection, not even know I was involved in that collection and recognize me right away from my voice. I think that is cool, like my face in my writing voice. In my photography, there is often an element of light, which is very much a reflection of my (what I call) collaboration with Divinity, which is soooo me…. many of my photo self portraits look like they are of something else, have a different subject… and require the viewer to think about what the concept of “self portrait” really means. I am going to use the question you ask here, Leah, as food for thought in my writing today. Thank you.

You bet. My work is a total journal. It is all about my innerworkings, and often a direct or indirect self portrait. For a while, my only model was myself. I painted so many self portraits.

When I look back at my work, I remember who I was, where i was when i was painting, who I was spending time with, my dreams, my fears, all of it. Even when the paintings were landscapes. I’ve used my art to work through broken hearts and intellectual challenges. I’ve used it to move myself into better times. I’ve used it for everything I ever could.

Yes, I’ve thought of my art as a kind of mirror, showing me things about myself that I don’t know until I look at it. When I draw a portrait, even though I’m trying for objective accuracy while I’m drawing, I find when I’m done that I’ve idealized the face. I’m not flattering the subject on purpose, but maybe I do look through rose-colored glasses.

I wrote you something Leah…I just couldn’t say it as easily in a comment, as I could in a post on my blog.

Peace & Love.

Leah, this is a little off your topic, but I can’t contain myself. I just went to your web site for the first time (I apologize that it took me so long). And am astounded by the vast array of work you produce. I love, love, love your subway collage series.
Wow! and double Wow!

Each piece we create is like a little window or even just a peep hole that reveals bits of ourselves. Earlier today I was considering how simplistically I tend to paint & wondered if I’m holding back part of myself that I’m not willing to reveal. Maybe. Sometimes.
Thought provoking post. Thanks!

You have “just a doodles” like no other artist I know, Leah ! Your pieces definitely have a true soul expression quality to them, which is what always draws me in, I think.

I agree that most art you make is a self-portrait – not a complete one, but a true expression of some parts of ourselves, or some moment in our time on Earth. I love love love that ! Sometimes I feel too, like it is bigger than me, this human being on the planet, and that it is my soul energy that takes over and has something to say. When that happens, I know I am really intouch with the Creative Spirit inside all of us !

Wonderful and inspiring stuff as always. Thank you for all you put out there, beautiful One !

I’ve only really rediscovered my artwork this year and yes, I agree totally. It is a self portrait. A little bit of me goes into each piece. I too am drawn at the moment to feminine subjects and for the first time am really letting go and experimenting and not being afraid of the results. I’m creating for me and from me and it feels really great!

Loved, loved reading this. Another artist friend and I were just talkng about this a few months ago. I joked my work is so obvious with it depicting motherhood and painted so large “it” is bigger than life for me.

Anyway, I love your work. I love how much it shares about beautiful you. Always soft and moody, rich in deep blues. It quiets me when I view it.

“When I do bring ideas to life, I feel more connected to myself and to my spiritual side. Art is a bit like keeping a diary, yes, but it’s also a way of communicating with myself, of understanding what’s going on beyond the conscious everyday stuff. When I’m able to express that, I feel calmer and more alive.”

This completely resonates with me as a choreographer. Dancing is how I process and express information, ideas, emotions, and more. Movement brings clarity to my thoughts.

I’d go so far as to say that I don’t think it’s possible for art NOT to be a self-portrait of some kind. Even if you’re doing it for someone else, to someone else’s specs, or even (shudder) work-for-hire; it’s like handwriting.

I find my favorite art of mine is the kind where I don’t have much of an idea going into it what it will be. In art school we were taught to have everything figured out before hand, all the metaphor and symbol and meaning before even putting pencil to paper. I much prefer discovering it. And some pieces surprise me, even years later–looking at it from a position of perspective I am able to say, ‘oh, so THAT’S what that was about!’

Yes!!! Just a few minutes ago I wrote a poem and I was thinking the same thing…that it revealed to me something of what is going on inside that I hadn’t been consciously aware of.

i am so happy to have found your website – you often are talking about something that has been on my mind. Amazing really.

Yup – art is like the transcript of an on-going dialogue between my ego and my inner voice.

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