Selves in Spaces

 

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Another interesting way of doing self-portraits (or portraits generally, for that matter) is to focus on the home space, the studio space or the work space. The idea is earth-shatteringly simple: the places we inhabit most of the time contain a part of our essence and act like mirrors that reflect the bigger question of True Identity. For example, there are two places excluding work that I inhabit and feel like they reflect back at me my own identity. These places are overflowing with the “you” : the home, including my main studio (or creative work space) and what I call the Retreat (and a 2nd less used studio hidden in the bush)

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The Retreat is a hinterland block of forested acreage with an unusually designed abode that was built by a sculptor influenced by Spanish, Israeli and Moroccan architecture. It’s a place I one day hope to open up to young artists and writers to allow them a magical escape from the world we live in (and through), the world of the angry, lost, envious, egotistical, broken-hearted, shallow, unwell, cynical and misanthropic. This is the world we can all relate to and are actively part of. The world of depression, grief and loss, trauma and myriad forms of suffering. Ugliness too.

 

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So as a form of portraiture and as a form of journal-keeping,  you can consider certain spaces as self-reflecting. Within these spaces of architectural presence, some rooms correspond to the inner-most sense of self you can possess.

 

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Spaces are not what the real estate agent tells you they are, or what the bank uses to estimate your net worth. These spaces are the fundamental environment of your journey through the world. It takes time to stop and see them properly though. Just as it takes time to stop and see your Self after a self-portrait or a portrait by another. The unifying element is the worthiness of stopping and seeing. And appreciating.

 

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Selves in Portrait

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Painting Iconic Ages

Us abstractionists are always looking for more projects to take on. The other day I wrote about “painting a book”, that is, capturing the atmosphere of a book in a mix of color and forms. This project is about delving deep into personal memory in an attempt to paint certain ages of significance. The process is the point, yet again.

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The purpose 

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This is one of the few posts you will ever see here that involves knowledge obtained directly from putting in many hours as a psychiatrist (as well as an artist).

I just read an article by some self-appointed and probably well-intentioned authority on how to be successful as an artist. It Ofcourse boiled down to the thesis “keep building your reputation, your prestige, your rating and your profile”. In other words, keep working away at making yourself known by as many art people as possible . Then you will become a successful artist. In the Age of Celebrity, it’s not surprising advice . It’s not even wrong. It’s just boring. And likely a good way to become another lost soul.

Our world is full of depressed, struggling souls with and without the following : money, recognition, reputation, artistic talent, charisma, brilliance, etc etc. These things don’t bring what the real core of a healthy human being wants : an authentic , creative and alive existence. Success ultimately is about living a creative and authentic life that is not dependent on the recognition of others, especially authority figures and the judges of the successful life. The main person you have to satisfy is you (ofcourse it’s nice for others to get joy from what you do as well).

In other words, I am interested in writing about how to live an authentic and creative and invigorating life. Painting and photography just happen to be my close at hand forms of creativity and authenticity . I hope they are not considered the only or even main ways to live a creative and authentic life .

Therefore , advice on how to make it in the art world might be interesting for those who see this as the ultimate goal. I do not. I wonder whether seeing “making it in the art world” may even be often anti-thetical in the quest to “make it in the art world”. Many consumers of art desire to buy a material manifestation of this desire to be creative and free. Egotism and narcissism are don’t usually sell well, do they? Not when they are nakedly revealed anyway.

This blog is not about that narrow goal of success in the art world.

It is about living and appreciating what it is to live a creative and authentic life. It is about the feeling of freedom that creating can give you.

I will try to clarify more and more the differences as we go between motives for art-making.

In a world of broken souls, of searing clinical depression, living a creative and authentic life must be nearer the ultimate goal than the somewhat self-torturing aim of becoming a successful artist. Success as an artist derives (in my value system at least) from pursuing more profound and humanistic paths toward the true and beautiful, the free and playful.

You’ll see what I mean as we go, I hope.

Identity

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One of the basic, recurrent themes is Identity. It’s the universal question of who am I? The Buddhists deny there is a self in any objective sense, the Existentialists see a rain of angst requiring decisive application of will-power to create a Self, and an influential school of psychology sees the self as made up of fundamental narcissistic needs that must be fulfilled if one is to be healthy. Where does that leave us? I choose the messiness of portaits to at least say something about the self …..it’s complicated and multi-coloured.