Earlier this week I tuned and adjusted the white balance of this picture, which I recently took of me with my mobile/cell phone; finding myself looking in the eyes saying ‘yes that’s me‘ and ‘quite a good photograph for a quick selfie.‘
For a long time an ogerous monster lived in my head that would have said something like this: ‘eww, what an ugly and loveable freak of nature you are, no wonder people point and laugh at you in the street. Delete that at once, nobody wants to see your ugly face on Facebook or Instagram. Don’t bother taking any more selfies, shows your ego is growing. Oh and may break your phone…ha ha!’
Instead another voice came out, the one I use when talking to others with my natural empathy and understanding ways, and not one I have heard myself say to me: ‘You look pretty and happy there Fi. Who cares if you see flaws or things that aren’t right in this photograph, better to knit a scarf than nitpick at yourself for no reason. Anyone that laughs and/or calls you ugly can spin on your middle finger, that’s what it is best used for!‘
I nearly choked on my own emotion, not for the first time, but this was in a positive way of my own doing to myself. Pondering, perhaps this former ugly duckling has finally seen her own swan-like reflection, and will glide the river of life wherever it is leading her to go. I do not need a mask of chemical colours or a surgeon’s blade to syringe to make me look beautiful; I am me, not an ogre but a swan, and that’s fine with me.
On Friday morning I sat for an hour in an art gallery looking at a sea of paintings of people from times past; a few were of religious significance to the Christian faith, others were special commissions to show the sitters proclaimed importance and others were of a person in the crowd watching an event unfold around them. I considered how times had changed as saw people around me reaching for their mobile phones to take selfies of themselves with paintings they liked as captured themselves in that moment. I opened my sketch book and started to think on how I would draw me, with the opening lines of the Ben Folds’ Five song Best imitation of myselfplaying in my head.
In times past I would have drawn an ogre with big ears and nose, as thought with all the laughing and pointing to comments on how ugly I was that must be a fair representation of how the world saw me. I sometimes wish I had MC Escher’s talents, as love Hand with reflecting sphere as to me it is the ultimate self portrait but it is way beyond my drawing ability as an artist. However, as drawings are highly subjective, unlike photographs that are regarded as non-subjective as fixed in time and space, it made me question who I am at that moment looking at these great works of art.
I have learnt to appreciate, respect and love the woman I am but in my head at first it was more like a cubist portrait by Pablo Picasso, for example Woman in hat and fur collar and The weeping woman. It was then I saw a rag doll image in the style of Picasso enter in my mind, so it was that I focused on as I began to draw. As I drew the form became less rag and Picasso more patchwork one. For each patch was something that had happened in life (good and bad) in the past (be it yesterday, last month or over three decades ago) that has left an impression on the person I am today, stitched together with love, respect and appreciation of those closest to me.
I also acknowledged whilst drawing that I have faults, I am not perfect, but then again what or who is? I smiled as thought of the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi, which is sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. The paintings around me had looked so perfect at first glance and thought of modern popular culture pictures, which are heavily stylised and edited to create images of people that are unrealistic. In the same way I would never know how realistic these paintings were of the people in them and how much was to the artist’s interpretation of the person(s) there in.
As I finished my drawing I decided it belonged only in my sketch book and not have a life beyond the book as not everything we see or do needs the world to see it. For art to me is a personal way of telling the story in heart and soul, life’s journey at that moment in time, giving it voice, sound and colour. Thus, perhaps in time I may paint a picture that looked more like those in the paintings in the gallery, but knew the one in my sketch pad was just as beautiful because it represented some things nobody could take away from or replicate if drawing or painting a portrait of me, as was me by me.
The German philosopher Nietzsche describes how art can be a force for healing the wounds of emotional trauma. His words illustrate the link that exists between creativity and spirituality. He points to the usefulness of art making as a form of communication that can access the depth of human suffering and in so doing allow the artist to transcend pain and re-experience existence from a new perspective.
As someone that uses creativity as therapy at times I can relate to this. From my earliest years I have been known for my emotional sensitivity, which to those that do not understand call it extreme. Thus it makes sense to express myself in creative form, freedom not from judgement but to be me. For example turning my camera on myself showed me the person not the distorted image the logical part of my brain kept trying to paint as muted the creative part.
From writing to photography and music, or visiting galleries and museums, art continues to help me cope with pains past and present. They give a voice to what I or others cannot say aloud through muted fear to visuals in my mind that paint life as I see it. By being creative I see things from the different perspectives I see in the world; seeing the larger picture of multicolour and multisensory not tunnel visioned to paint it black and white with all being x or y it is often depicted as.
Art to me is self expression using different media to show how life is between the extremes and a snapshot of how life is in our world. So write, paint, photograph, sew or knit wherever and whenever you like, we set the rules not anyone else as it is our life lived our way, warts and all.
What is a mirror? To most people it is something that shows their reflection. If we think beyond that, it is a silent mime act following our every move. If we go a little deeper, it is showing us in live action motion how the outside world sees us. Deeper still it is a magnifying glass that highlights all we dislike about ourselves. However, is it all of these things and none of these things? It physically may show these things but how we interpret what it is we see is another. Furthermore, it is said if we met our own double we would not recognise them, as we have an image in our head as to how we actually look. So does a mirror really reflect the real us and how we look to those we meet in the workplace, streets and malls?
The silent mime act may make us laugh as children, as there is someone doing all we do. As we grow we get worried how the outside world sees us as fear the fingers of judgement and rejection. Then we find it to be a truth sayer, telling how much weight we need to lose to how old we now are, reflected back at us. However, what we forget is it does not have a voice, and I don’t mean our own internal one, for if it did it may say something very different. It would not massage our egos but tell us how well we are doing with life; like a scar we see above our forehead, the mirror may show a small scar but our insides know it hides the painful memories it tells. So perhaps it gives us a version of us or hologram of our mind’s image?
These days we put so much emphasis on physical appearance that the mirror may reflect back to us. However it is what it does not show what is on the inside, from our personalities to the colour of our auras. I remember one of the early photographs I took of myself in Italy mid-May 2007 and asked someone “do I really look like that”? To which I got laughter of “erm yes Fi, who else did you think it was?” It hit me hard as realised the image I felt of myself was not the girl in the photograph. The girl in the photograph looked sad and in pain, needing a big hug to say all would be all right, and I knew in that instance I had to find my true self if was ever going to be free. Now I know a mirror does not reflect the full us; best viewed like a child, as a mime act copying all we do in that moment and nothing more.