Musings of a Self-Trained Artist: A Laywoman’s Laycolumn
By Ann D'Angelo
This article originally appeared in ArtTrader Magazine, Issue 17
Last year, I received an invitation to join a Self-Portrait swap, and in fine neurotic fashion, I freaked out, my internal monologue sounding roughly like this: What if I make myself too young? What if I turn out all hot and skinny, like the love child of a Victoria’s Secret model and a number 2 pencil? What if people start sending me books like Self-Delusion & You: How to Get a Grip on Your Actual Height, Weight, and Bone Structure, You Ninnypants? Despite my misgivings, I wound up joining the swap because it had this caveat: I had to collage.
Collage, as it turns out, liberates the artist from that entire dilemma. Since there is no way to create a realistic portrait of the self using images of others, the artist must look past the appearance to behaviors, personality traits, and internal conflicts. This exploration of the self can be lighthearted or truly searching, but in either case, the exercise is so satisfying – both emotionally and artistically – that I am hereby recommending it as an excellent way to kick off the New Year.
In this card, which I made for the swap, I decided to try having a little fun at my own expense. The central joke here is that I created myself out of an image of Napoleon, with whom I seem to share the overachieving desire to conquer the world, along with a certain smallness of stature and some seriously questionable hair. The Speedball pen references not only my writing aspirations, but also my wish to succeed quickly on all fronts. (Logging the hours? Gaining experience? Bah humbug! I want to bowl a 289 right now, please.)
As for the artistic process, I found that the layering of accomplishments – the A, the row of stars, the pair of ones– served the piece both thematically and visually, creating dimension while expressing my ridiculous yearning for marks of approval. On a literal level, the pink glasses signify that this woman is me, but the repeated use of the same pink color across various symbols of achievement suggests that this need colors my vision.
Although my desire for approval is not something I particularly like about myself, I’ve been working on finding ways to laugh at my faults, instead of burying them deep in my underground shame tunnels. In that respect, this card proved wonderfully therapeutic. I don’t think anyone has ever said that collage is the best medicine, but maybe someone should.
By way of conclusion, I have a few suggestions for anyone who wants to undertake this cool exercise in artistic introspection.
1. Choose the focal images first; figure out what they mean or express afterward.
2. Be open-minded. An image of a man might convey something about a female artist even more handily than an image of a woman. The same holds true for images of two people. (Who doesn’t sometimes have a two-way argument going inside their brain?)
3. Make conscious decisions. Choose colors, snippets of text, and supporting images that express the theme.
4. Create a series. When it comes to self-awareness, who couldn’t stand a little more?