Self-portraits are a great way to study. As someone who loves to paint portraits, I have a deep affinity and appreciation for self-portraits because they provide me with model who is just as invested in the end result as the creator. I can scrutinize every centimeter of every shadow and highlight in my own face without concern.
I found Seeing Ourselves while exploring the MOMA library on day on a solo museum visit (my favorite way to visit museums). I pined for it, then went home and bought it used off of Amazon for a fraction of the price in the book store.
The self-portrait is a wonderful intersection of self-image and social representation. What do we want to say about ourselves? When Frances Borzello, the author, refines her research to the self-portraits of women, she is hinting at this confusing idea of identity for women: the push and pull of purity and enticement, and how a woman in every point in time identifies with that. Does she hold any shame for leaning one way or another, and does that change when she is alone? Does she strive for honesty in her portrait, or is it playful, or is it regal? Furthermore, despite social restrictions, women have found lasting platforms on which we can now reflect and compare with our present day paradigms.
"[F]emininity was understood in terms of duties, accomplishments, and permissible behaviour... It was not thought seemly to put themselves forward, let alone compete or excel, or proper for them to go into the world alone. [Women's] sphere was private, while men's was public. A woman who practised as an artist had to operate in a context set up for men and to behave in a manner thought unwomanly."
Better yet, the artistic standard was held by how well you could paint the human form as represented by the male nude. Well, there went any chance for notoriety for single women or otherwise for a long time. We've come a long way since the Middle Ages. Women are, at times, praised when they excel, they can go places alone in some parts of the world, and they can not give a shit what people think and still be seen as human women by some percentage of the population.
Oh yea, and selfies. We all do it. We all love it. We are fascinated with ourselves and each other. We like to put our best foot forward and represent ourselves. It is one of the most fascinating things about the time we live in: the instant gratification of representing ourselves. Of seeing ourselves and showing that to others in our own unique way. So...