Art and the Self

Archived Post, first published on Jan 13, 2012

I was fortunate enough to see an exhibit on Rembrandt, and one of the most fascinating pieces for me was the self-portrait of an older Rembrandt. Painted after his work had gone out of style, after his clients had left for new fads and other kinds of art, Rembrandt was still painting for himself. I suppose all artists ultimately create for themselves. When we sit down to write, or paint, or sculpt, in the end, we work alone in a room with no one standing by to love it or to hate it. At least at first, we work alone, for ourselves alone. Only later do editors, critics, readers, and art dealers come in to tell us if what we’ve done is good or not. Basically, whether or not they like it.

But in the beginning, in its purest form, the only critic we need is our own vision, our own eye. Without that, we have nothing. As we work to make our art for the consumption of others, we must remember that our art has to be for us, too.

Rembrandt had no idea that his work would last, that four hundred years later, I would stand in front of it,  inspired by it. He sat alone in a room with his canvas and a mirror, and painted his own face, for himself. And it is one of the best works he ever did. I wonder if he knew that, too, even as he did it. Perhaps the best work we do, the purest art, is the art we make for ourselves.

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