Saturday, March 29, 2008

How I Know I'm Here

I've been wanting to post on the topic of self portraiture for awhile, and why I make self-portraits. I make them to check in with myself: they are my diary. I make them to journal, to take my spiritual, emotional, and psychological temperature, to get grounded. And to reference Kiki Smith, I make them to remind myself that I'm here. I have no earth in my astrological chart except for a tiny node in Capricorn which I've been told saves me from total space cadettehood...

I can forget where and what I am, if rattled, and I rattle quite easily. I have panic disorder. Making self portraits brings me back into my body and my feelings. I started having panic attacks in Junior High School (hey, maybe Junior High is what caused them! To quote Anne Lamotte, "The seventh and eighth grades were for me, and for every single good and interesting person I've ever known, what the writers of the Bible meant when they used the words hell and the pit.") Whatever. I have had debilitating panic attacks off and on for my entire adult life. At its worst, I am agoraphobic, becoming paralyzed with fear by just walking across a beach or an empty parking lot (my personal ad would read, "non-smoker, loves cats and kids, hyperventilates during long walks on beaches...").

So, Self-portraits, Not Sedatives.

During a crit at MECA one afternoon a painting teacher barked at me disdainfully, "Art is not therapy, Martha."
Ummm.......yes, for me, it is. (Who is it that said, "An art critic is someone who comes onto the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded...?")
So, shoot me.

This same professor stated with certainty that no self-portrait is ever interesting. She claimed the genre to be a sort of "masturbation."

(Well, you are drawing yourself by that regard I suppose it's an apt description...)

Is that so bad? I wondered why she was so caught up with content. A good drawing is a good drawing, whether it is of cracks in the sidewalk or of your own cracked reflection. I love other artists' self-portraits and am thrilled to find them. I don't know about you, but when I can see and connect with someone else's internal struggle, I feel alot less lonely. For me a self-portrait is a generous gift - an offering of that person's experience of having a body, an ego and a spirit, and all the confusion, complication and joy that comes with the package. A self-portrait provides a personal and intimate window into an individual's unique psyche: it is a baring and sharing of the soul, which I believe is a very scary and noble thing to do.

Kiki Smith
How I Know I'm Here, 1985-2000 Linoleum block print in four panels Printed in indigo on Thai Mulberry paper by The Grenfell Press 11 1/2" 172" (11 1/2" x 43" each)

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