Yesterday, the Times Online (25th May 2007) had an excellent article about the Tate Times Drawing Challenge Shortlist by Rachel Campbell Johnston. This places the challenge in the context of the importance of the self-portrait in identifying artistic talent and the preference of judges for drawing from life rather than photographs.
The self-portrait is fundamental to Western art history. Over the centuries it has become a touchstone of talent..... A self-portrait can be about ruthless honesty. But, equally, it can be all about ways of dissembling. Artists can rival actors when it comes to obscuring or embellishing themselves.Think of the difference between that public face that you practise in the mirror and that embarrassing grimace in the camera snap. The construction of an image involves dozens of decisions. To study a self-portrait is to understand how an artist wants to be seen.A jury including Tate Modern’s Head of Education, Anna Cutler; The Times’s critic Rachel Campbell Johnston; UBS’s curator Joanne Bernstein; Artist and Professor of Drawing at Chelsea College of Art, Stephen Farthing; and the artist Grayson Perry, have selected the best to show. It's extremely interesting to read the Judges' comments about what they were looking for in the selection process - and you can also watch a video of the judges explaining the criteria they used in arriving at their choice of the final shortlist (click on first paragraph of the Times article).
The judges tended to prefer the pictures in which the artist had really tried to look in a mirror rather than copy the surface of a photograph. “Drawing a self-portrait is not about copying your face, it is about developing a memory for it,” says Stephen Farthing, professor of drawing at University of the Arts, London. “The best images,” he says, “are those done by someone who has spent time drawing from life, not just trying to make pictures that look as if they are finished.” Most of the most obviously perfect images were passed over by the panel. “The distortions and quirks are where the subconscious leaks out,” Grayson Perry says.I liked the Times coverage of article, picture gallery and video - but had a few problems getting the video to load - but was very pleased when it finally worked. I think it's a pity that there are no links to the Times coverage on the Tate website - with the original site at Tate Online or Tate Modern.
The Times Online article webpage for 25th May 2007 includes the Picture Gallery of the Tate Times shortlist (click the box just to the right of the text at the top of the article). Be prepared to be very impressed by the quality of some of the work compared to artists of any age - compare these self-portraits to that done by Constable aged 30 (see top) and with Rembrandt's self-portraits as a young man done in his early 20s. Then take another look at the self-portraits in this Drawing Challenge and note the ages!
I think this is an excellent idea for a competition and it's great that it produced so very many responses. Let's hope it gets repeated.
Which self-portrait did you like best?
Note: The image at the top is a self-portrait by John Constable which forms part of the Tate Collection. It is now generally recognised as the finest portrait of Constable and was executed in pencil in 1806 when the artist was 30
This sketch is Constable's earliest dated from 1806, the year of his most prolific output, and one in which he appears to have worked predominantly in pencil and . .....Constable made this drawing in March, when he was presumably in London. A profile self- such as this requires the use of two mirrors. Terry Riggs 1998, Tate CollectionLinks:
- Tate Gallery: Tate Time Drawing Challenge
- Times Online: Tate Times Drawing Challenge Shortlist (and access to Gallery)