Self-Portraits

By Hubbard, Guy | Arts & Activities, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Self-Portraits


Hubbard, Guy, Arts & Activities


Portraits have played an important part in art because people wanted their relatives and friends to know what they looked like. This is especially true when someone is important and wants to be remembered.

Most portraits today are photographs. We find them everywhere in our homes and offices but, until cameras were invented nearly 200 years ago, the only way a portrait could be made was if an artist painted or drew one. Nowadays very few portraits continue to be painted by artists, and then only of very important or very rich people.

Sometimes portraits by artists are very realistic and sometimes they are quite abstract. The portraits of emperors on the faces of coins are usually side views and are simplified yet quite realistic, whereas a painting of a king or a nobleman may be shown life-size and in great detail, in a way that will impress ordinary people. Artists are also likely to make the portraits of important people look much more handsome than they really are to flatter the person sitting for a portrait.

Artists' serf-portraits are usually made for quite different reasons and, in some ways, this makes them more interesting. Self-portraits are sometimes made just because an artist needs a model to practice his skills: With the aid of a mirror, his own face is readily available. He can then try making an exact likeness without having to worry about being too concerned about how good looking it is. This is especially true when the artist wants to capture the character of the face he sees as well as make a good likeness. Alternatively, if an artist wants to experiment creatively, his own face is easiest to use without running the risk of offending anyone.

Yet another reason for making a self-portrait is when an artist needs pictures to show prospective clients and demonstrate just how good he is at painting portraits. In the days before photography was invented, it was not easy to see examples of an artist's work unless a client visited the home of someone who had already owned a painting by that artist. So, exhibiting paintings--including self-portraits--could be important for an artist's future success.

Artists, then, have many reasons for making self-portraits. One important thing about studying them is they usually tell us something about what an artist looks like. Self-portraits can also tell us about an artist's style of painting or drawing with special attention on personal character. Is he cheerful? Proud of the way he looks? Is he old or young? Does he have a lot or a little hair? And so on.

The Clip & Save articles this year will feature 10 works of art. Widely varying examples have been chosen to enable students to study a variety of ways in which artists have portrayed themselves. They include paintings by Vincent van Gogh (in this issue), Joan Miro, Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-LeBrun, Thomas Hart Benton, Norman Rockwell, among others.

These reproductions may be studied as part of general art education to enable students to be better informed about art. Visual ideas present in the reproductions may also be used by students to enhance their own art.

THE CUP & SAVE ART PRINT FORMAT Each Art Print and related text continues to be organized--as in preceding years--so readers will know what to expect and be able to find information that could be useful to them. As usual, the centerfold of the magazine will be occupied with a large, full-color reproduction of an artwork suitable for classroom display.

The page before the centerfold includes information about the art print. The opening section, "About this Self-Portrait," has to do with information that students can learn about the work. Most, but not all, of the series are paintings. The section that follows, "About the Artist," provides information about the artist's life so students may learn some of the things that caused the artist to work in the way he or she did.

The page after the centerfold reproduction includes some suggestions for using the reproduction in the classroom. …

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