How would you like to start 2023 in a new, creative way?
Every Wednesday and Saturday, we will be posting an installment of our book, Through an Artist’s Eyes: Learning to Live Creatively offering you a pathway to art and the vision of the artist. Enabling you to develop your own inner creativity and apply it to the personal cycle of everyday living.
New Self, True Self
Let’s venture further in out quest for living life creatively through an artist’s eyes. Are you ready for a personal transformation? But first don’t you need to answer the question, “Who am I?” Have you ever actually wondered who you are? Have you considered creating a self portrait?
But where do you start? Perhaps you might follow the pathway of Rembrandt who began by simply looking in the mirror, initially as a novice painter, probably using his own features to practice drawing the human face. Portraiture would become a major source of income for the quickly rising Dutch artist whose subjects were often the prosperous burghers and merchants of seventeenth century Amsterdam.
It is speculated that Rembrandt’s early self portraits were also intended to be sold to the public. In one series of etchings of self portraits done in his twenties, Rembrandt captures a range of reactions, laughter to anger to surprise, perhaps a source of entertainment for potential clients.
However, his motivation for self portraiture must have been deeper than profit. For by the time of his death at sixty-three in 1669, he had created more than ninety self portraits, a number unmatched by any other artist. It seemed that specifically in his later years, he had become fascinated, even obsessed by his own image. We see through his eyes, what could be called his autobiography in paint, from the energetic, sometimes rebellious youth to the successful, fashionably dressed leader of the Amsterdam art world to the weary, yet courageous old man, unafraid to show the ravages of aging.
Rembrandt was a searcher—a seeker of the truth about himself, a man without vanity who revealed his homeliness openly, honestly, often spotlighting it in the warmth of the glowing light. Even in his younger years his nose is too prominent, his skin rather coarse, his hair generally thinning, and he tends to be overweight. However, it is his eyes, no matter what his age, that draw us with their depth, their strength, and their eternity. Sometimes sad, at other times proud, suspicious or angry, sympathetic and tragic in their expression.
Is Rembrandt also asking us to look at ourselves by his example? Is he acting as our guide? Have you ever truly looked at your own eyes? Not glancing around or about them, but into them? Or, perhaps like so many people, are you more concerned about your appearance? Is your hair in place and (if you wear it) is your makeup applied correctly? How about that blemish or pimple that threatens your complexion? Or the wrinkles that seem to be multiplying no matter how hard you try to stop them?
You probably are aware too of basic emotions that register on your face, ranging from happiness to despair, excitement to exhaustion. How many times have you been startled by the effects of crying—the redness, the puffiness, the tears? Is that you? Or does it seem more like a stranger staring back at you, only temporarily? Not really you, but someone else, who will disappear as your mood lightens or your circumstances change?
Your eyes, though, are the key to yourself, or according to an ancient saying, “the windows to your soul.” Your entire existence is reflected in them–past, present, and maybe even inklings of the future: a capsule of your humanity, your being, and your spirituality waiting to be explored.
How do you start to penetrate the world behind your own eyes, the inner universe consumed by the passage of time? Your own time: the seconds, the minutes, the hours, the weeks, the months, the years, commencing with your first breath at birth. Inexplicably, this is apparently a moment you cannot remember. The instant of your individual creation is lost to you forever, except through accounts of your parents, your family members, and other witnesses.
Artists, too, are excluded from the experience of transformation rivaled in its monumentality only by death. Yet the twentieth century artist Marc Chagall did attempt to capture this moment repeatedly in several works of art. In “Birth,” one of his earliest versions of the theme, done in 1910, he depicts his mother recovering on her delivery bed while nearby a midwife holds the newly born artist in her arms.
Chagall also recreated numerous scenes of his childhood, in the Russian village of Vitebsk—visions of memories that still inspired him even in his nineties. He revealed episodes of his adult life as well: his emergence as a young artist in Paris, his courtship and marriage to his first wife Bella, and the turbulence that led to his exile during World War II. His paintings were often filled with joy and exuberance, but at times with suffering and despair. Overall, though, Chagall’s art is a positive testament to the near-century he spent as he once said, “between heaven and earth.”
Reflect, like Chagall, on the events of your life, beginning with the freshness of childhood and the hopes of the teen years. Continue your review through your adulthood, the longest period that often lasts decades, divided into early, middle, and later stages. Perhaps you have just graduated and are about to find your first job, or your marking your thirtieth anniversary of marriage or a profession, or confronting your older years, facing daily health concerns and challenges.
However, wherever you may be in the process or passage, think of your life as a work of art, though impossible to limit to the confines of a canvas, a book, a symphony, a play, or a dance. It is an ongoing masterpiece, forever evolving, full of what society defines as successes and failures, losses and gains, positive and negative, yin and yang. And most importantly, accept yourself, as Rembrandt did in his self portraits, as Chagall in his narrative, and never stop the quest for inner knowledge. The key to your new self is uncovering your true self.
Copyright 2010: Joan Hart, Museum One, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented including photocopying, recording and information storage and retrieval without permission from the publisher.