We all have fits with our face. When we notice, which is more often than we acknowledge, we try to alter it, hide it under makeup, neglect it in hope it will sort of go away, push it out in front of everything else, and sometimes try to keep it hidden from sunlight or direct eye contact. Our face is our own but not disciplined to take commands, and it keeps falling and aging away with no regard to our pride and hurt feelings. If “Bad Face” was not our very best friend we would have to punish it. However, if you want to feel sorry for someone, consider the artist who decides he will be his own physician and paints himself. Do you suppose that an artist can take out malpractice insurance on himself?
In Laura Cumming’s world, that is her book A Face To The World: On Self-Portraits, the successes are immensely intriguing, and the failures are spectacular. She has created a new art game best played in museums but also at home. If you collect prints, drawings, and photographs, you may be surprised at the number of artist’s portraits you had not especially noted as such. The game is to try to determine what the artist hoped to achieve by using himself, what he wanted to hide, and what he wanted to display; in the duality of aware and unaware, when was the artist artist and when was the artist subject.
The author covers many marquee names associated with self-portraits, but the attention given Americans is a bit light. The English a bit over exposed. Illustrations are often smaller than a reader would like, and many pages of text are printed on gray paper. These are little complaints about a book art lovers will enjoy. Charles Marlin