Fear in Writing: The Artist and the Self Portrait

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Artist and the Self Portrait

Self Portrait, 1973,
Francis Bacon
I am working on my manuscript.  I am actually working on my manuscript!  It feels wonderful to meet these characters again and delve deeper into their interests and motivations.  The world of my MS is forming beneath my fingertips.

But I keep fighting one tendency: writing myself.

I first questioned this tendency in July in a post titled "I, I, I=me, me, me?"  There, I talked about my conscious decisions not to mimic my life in my writing, but how experience and self can be powerful factors in creativity, and the resulting relationship with POV.

Now I ask, is it an artist's nature to make a self-portrait?

Self Portrait, 1967, Andy Warhol
 Think of some of the most celebrated painters.  Of course, we all immediately bring Van Gogh to mind.  There is also Francis Bacon, Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse, and Balthus.

And it's not just painters.  Writers often create seemingly or blatantly autobiographicaly fiction.  Think James Joyce with The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, or Charles Dickens' David Copperfield.
David Copperfield,
first serial edition, 1849

How many times have you turned your pocket camera around and snapped your face pressed against a best friend or family member?  How often do you reflect on yourself when you pray or draw or write or mold your child? 

Aren't we self-reflective by nature, as humans?  As artists?

The Two Fridas, 1939, Frida Kahlo
*All paintings found on Artquotes.net, Famous Self Portraits


  1. Michele - What a thoughtful and interesting post! You have a strong and well-taken point, too. We really do incorporate ourselves, I think, into our writing. For instance, my WIP takes place mostly in Philadelphia, a city where I lived for many years, and that I still consider my home. As I've been writing it, I've most likely been incorporating my own experiences and impressions.

    I have to say, though, I'm pathologically camera-shy, so I never take pictures of myself ;-).

  2. I think we can't help but to incorporate ourselves in our writing. Some to a great degree, some less. I think that's necessary because we need to write what we know on some level and we know human nature and emotions from our standpoint best.


  3. For me, it's not so much that I write myself in, but I have a tendency to write what I want to be. Of course, CD is right that we can't help some reflection of ourself in the writing, but I'm not sure you'd have much voice present if you didn't. Mostly, though, my writing is my wishful thinking.

  4. I like to think that my characters are the kind of people that we aspire to be. Brave beyond reason, witty, driven...I know I'm not nearly as confident as my main characters...but you're right about them having some slice of us in them. We are their creators after all. =)

    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  5. I'd like to think that our characters are partly us as we are writing our thoughts, beliefs and experiences. I agree that we cannot help but incorporate ourselves with the characters.

    and yes, LOL. I do take snaps of myself beside my husband, son, and friends! I enjoy taking pictures! :)

    Very interesting post! Best wishes on your manuscript! :)

  6. Aren't we self-reflective by nature, as humans? As artists?

    I believe the answer to this question is YES. But also, some of us do more of this than others. Sometimes...as in my case...too much of it! :)

  7. So true! There is a piece of me in everything I write.

  8. I agree. Most of what I write has a little of me in it. Normally though, once I really get into the story, the character tends to take on their own traits and I write myself out of them.

    I think that, in writing, developing the character is where about ninety percent of our creative efforts go. Setting, plot, conflict, and resolution are all things that affect our characters or things we throw at our characters. Just keep writing and your characters will soon kick you out of their head.

  9. for ym graduate show I completed many self-portraits and the main reason was that it the subject was easy to capture - and ti taught me alot about art in the process...

    only afterwards did i realise how... weird it appeared with all the self portraits.