Table of Content


1. Aristotle’s Concept of Essence

2. Likeness as
Representation of the Self

3. Wittgenstein’s
Concept of Family

4. Likeness as
of “self”

5. The Art Exhibition




The Representation and Reality of the Self in Art


My interdisciplinary thesis consists of two parts: a philosophical discussion of the self, and a multi-media art installation. The central question in the the philosophical part is analysis of self and self-portraits. This discussion was inspired by my art installation, which featured self-portraits in the form of twelve drawings and an interactive web site. First, I will address the definition of self, than I will discuss principals in relation to my artwork.

As a point of departure for my philosophical discussion of the self I will address an instruction that was given in an art drawing class I attended as a part of my Interdisciplinary Studies program. At the beginning of the class the art instructor directed students to “draw the essence of the model”. What the instructor meant, in my opinion, was to represent the essential self of the model.

In my opinion this statement that claims that there is an essential self of the model is false, and I will shortly explain why. The statement assumes two premises: (1) there is the essential self; (2) the self can be visually represented as the likeness of the artist or the model. I consider the first premise false, and the second premise true, but only if the represented “self” is understood as a concept, not as a metaphysical entity.

As I will demonstrate, both premises have their roots in Aristotle’s philosophy. Therefore, in this first chapter I will discuss Aristotle’s concept of essence. In the second chapter I will discuss representation of the essential self as likeness, and I will use as an example interpretations of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. In the third chapter I will discuss Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblances. In the fourth chapter I will analyze how self-portraits gain meaning, and demonstrate why, in my opinion, likeness can represent “self”, but not an essential self. In the last chapter I will talk about my art exhibition which was a practical experiment in developing self-portraits using likeness as representation of “self”. As an addition to thesis I shall include slides of my Master of Arts Exhibition and a CD-ROM containing an interactive web site, which was part of the installation.

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© Vjeran Miljenovic, 2004.