Like the art of journal-keeping, the art of the self-portrait is a time-honoured way of following the sense we have of our Self over time. Generally speaking, they are not about narcissism or pathological self-love or self-obsession. Rather, the art of the self portrait is about attention to the many ways we exist in the world and as such, is a meditation on identity.
Pathological narcissism (WARNING : shrink talk imminent) is about creating a defensive carapace that tries to deflect the arrows of low self-esteem and the sense of smallness in the world. Heinz Kohut (great psychotherapist) pointed out that not all narcissism is reflective of a narcissistic personality disorder. To the contrary, we all have basic needs to be acknowledged and respected and loved….these are our healthy narcissistic needs. Self portraits follow this as well as commenting on the entirety of who we are cross-sectionally in time : fragmented, confronted, scarred, funny or strong.
Good self portraits are effectively holding Time still so that we can see who we are in the midst of constant change. Every emotion and every characteristic can be contained in the gesture of immortality the self portrait is daring to attempt. Like journal-keeping, an artist can look back over the many self portraits they have done over the years and immediately reinhabit those previous Selves that somehow continue to exist deep down inside.