The Importance of the Self-Portrait

In early childhood education, the self-portrait is invaluable. It can reveal how a child percieves themselves, the world, and what they value. As a preschool teacher, I  collect a lot of self-portraits, and it is amazing to watch them morph through their year with me. When a child learns to draw people, they will draw themselves with a giant head. If you are paying attention this is adorable, but also reveals much more than their artistic skill. As children grow in their abilities, the self-portraits become a little more balanced in the perspective, this is because the very same balance is happening in their heads. They are realizing that they are not the most important or the only thing in their world, other people become valuable and details like who stands by who in a portrait becomes important, and psychologically significant. 

Much like the self-portrait in photography or painting, childhood self-portraits can vary from the very literal to the abstract. It’s unfortunate that this introspective act of visualizing yourself (physically, emotionally, or socially) is reserved only for children, adults who prusue art classes, or those who make artistic works for a living. 

There is so much all of us can learn from our self-portraits. I’m a visualizer, I have to drawn it out to understand what something will look like, so perhaps this only fits me beceause of that personality trait. 

I’ve done two self-portraitesque drawings in my journaling, one was guided at a retreat, the other I choose to do because I couldn’t verbalize what was bothering me. 

The first, done in late December 2010, is abstract. I wasn’t quite full of things I loved, but the few bright spots filled me more than I needed and at the time I was overflowing. 

photo 1.JPG

The second, done in mid August 2011, is relational. It was a rough time and as I was spending some time at a monastery giving myself some space to think, I was having writers block. So, I decided to close my eyes and drawn the first image that came to mind when I thought of who and where I was in life. I was in a boat, in the ocean, balancing on a plank. Two unsteady surfaces: I definitely felt like I had no control, balance, or sense of stability. 

photo 2.JPG

The thing about the self-portrait that I love, and the reason I’m okay sharing it, is that I think it reveals something that we won’t let ourselves admit, especially if our primary communication and expression is verbal or written. We set up mental blocks so we can protect ourselves and others; but drawing gets around those because our brains aren’t trained to censor pictures. I really value self-discovery, I think there is so much more for each individual to offer if they can truly understand themselves, and a self-portrait is an important path to discovering how you are really perceiving your situation. 

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