Monday, August 27, 2012

Why a Self-Portrait?

         basic point & shoot                                  &                  a touch of composing

Question: Why do artists do self-portraits?
Short answer (somewhat flippant): No choice. 
(Support given below.)

As I consider how to begin our first meeting, the inescapable self-introduction looms larger and, if allowed, more revelatory.  For previous beginnings, I’ve dabbled a bit with producing a video for this purpose.  Making a self-intro video also models for teachers of composition.  By teachers of composition, I mean all teachers because we all use wordsmithing to explore our varied contents, and we all have to make a self-introduction.  To “go as you are” or hiding behind the “content” are just variants of self-introduction, and some might be seen as arrogant, unconscious, and/or irresponsible. 

In making the initial face-to-face contact between teacher and students, especially when digital media are prominent in the process, product, and/or subject of learning, a self-intro video looks to be an obvious prop.  That’s what I was thinking when I first did it because of the:
1) subject matter that’s relatively available (existing photos of self & interests), 
2) opportunity to demonstrate the media that would be used in the class, 
3) students’ relatively high-interest in digital media, and 
4) potential for shaping the image to be shown (in other words, I could check out what I was revealing in advance and edit as needed). 

Having now made a few more self-intro videos, I find myself wading deeper into the nature of this.  For example, what do the process and product offer in relation to identity?  Of course, identity is not just a closed box to be found and opened; life is also about the construction of it.  Perhaps the serious implications of constructing the self even frighten us into minimizing the introductory event.  To the extent a person wants to engage, the making of a self-intro video offers the generative resources of photography, music, voice, text, and mixing.

In one of those musings, the question asked at the top came to mind.  I admire artists for their work at the edge of knowing, out on the frontier of culture and consciousness.  The consideration of art also comes in because it takes us further into our engagement with digital media.  As we want move beyond technical skill and further into our capacity, we ask about quality and purpose.  Because we’re not just composing in print media, we’ll want to surpass our traditional standards (e.g., the 6 + 1) with the rich qualities of art: balance, harmony, resonance . . .  The support materials shown below offer expansions into the question of composing and identity.

As inherent to many instructional settings, our course (Good Stories: Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice) essentially begins and ends with the question.  We come to see how all composing reflects in the omnipresent search and revelation: “Who are you?”  In a way, every story and each composing responds to and reveals in relation to the personal and social quest, representation, and construction into true identity.

Support for my response that we have no choice but to do self-portraits includes these:
1. The eminent authority, OED, tells the meaning of compose :
            1b. “To fashion, frame (the human body, etc.)
a1616   Shakespeare All's Well that ends Well (1623) i. ii. 21   Franke Nature rather curious then in hast Hath well compos'd thee.

 13.  a. To address or dispose (esp. the mind, oneself) calmly and collectedly to or for an action or state, or to do something; ‘to adjust the mind to any business by freeing it from disturbance’ (Johnson).

2.  I also appreciate discussion in a recent publication by the National Writing Project: Jeffrey Wilhelm & Bruce Novak’s Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom. For example, they show us caught in a whipsaw between control to excess “unless we first manage to induce the preponderance of individuals composing democratic societies to compose themselves. Finding meaning in the individual felt experiences we have each been given, we also each find our own source of personal authority and personal truth through the thoughtful honing of the otherwise arbitrary and vacillating individual will. This personal authority can then become a new anchor for common life. . .” (p. 46).

3. One other terrific resource including both conceptual and practical materials comes from the National Gallery of Art: “Since the Renaissance, artists have used self-portraits to explore a basic question: Who am I?”