By Professor Andrew Kulman, School of Visual Communication

The Picasso self-portrait of 1901 that came into the news this week has been commented on as a true self-portrait but it has raised questions about the act of putting our likeness into the public domain. This age old obsession with coming to terms with who we really are or more to the point, who we want others to think we are is not going to go away.

What was Rembrandt thinking when he painted his self-portrait? Well, as he painted his own likeness countless times during his long and illustrious life then we can only speculate. Considering we’re all now well established in the era of the ‘selfie’, whether it be the ‘all in it together’ group photo or the dangerously candid and instantly regrettable Snapchat upload, never has the self-portrait seemed so vital to our identity. Most of us edit furiously until we find an acceptable likeness or plan carefully how we might want the world to see us. Casting back centuries and the brooding Dutch Master may well have had similar thoughts, his countless expressions suggest someone whose keen to record differing expression and mood, almost the full range of human emotion looks out from the canvases.

So as we pause to think of Picasso, let us consider a few thoughts. Here was the Twentieth Century’s greatest modern master, sitting before the mirror. In six years time he will have changed the way art is seen forever with his revolutionary masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Like Rembrandt, Picasso would later choose to depict himself as a powerful God, a monstrous abstraction, a bull, he would become mercurial and hard to pin down. Today we can all be just as playful, different expressions, filtered and distorted using special effect apps create impressions that bear no likeness to the real person in front of the lens. If we don’t like the image we can simply delete or edit it, we are becoming adept at managing our own portraiture.

Now consider this, Picasso would have been an early adopter of new technology if he had been around today and what he would have made of the app that lets you distort your face using a Picasso filter makes for a very interesting discussion.


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Andrew Kulman

Andrew Kulman

Professor Andrew Kulman works in the School of Visual Communication at the University. An award winning Illustrator, writer and educator since 1987, he is also a graduate of the Royal College of Art. His teaching career began as a Visiting Tutor at University of Westminster, Kingston University and Brighton University. In 1997 he joined BCU, running Illustration, since then he has been Director of both Undergraduate and Postgraduate studies in Visual Communication and has been a Course Director on several MA courses in the School of Art, a position which has allowed him to work with a range of different disciplines. He was conferred as a Professor of Graphic Art in April 2006 following an application under the criterion of recognition in Practice and Industry.
Andrew Kulman

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