Table of Content
Aristotle’s Concept of Essence
Representation of the Self
Concept of Family
Master of Arts Art Exhibition
Representation and Reality of the Self in Art
4. Likeness as Representation of “self”
argument that I am analyzing in my thesis is based on two assumptions:
that there is an essential self, and that self-portraits represent
the self of the artist. So far, I demonstrated that the first premise
is false. I consider the “self” to be a fuzzy concept
derived from a family resemblance among our observations of both
ourselves and others. Therefore, I consider that it is false to
posit the existence of the essential Self. In my view, although
the essential Self cannot be posited as the referent of self-portraits,
likeness still can represent the “self”. The self to
which self-portraits refer is not the metaphysical essence of the
person, but the concept we have about a particular person, and about
the nature of persons in general. Different conceptions of the self
will inspire different artwork (from the artist’s side) and
yield different interpretations (from the viewer’s side).
In this chapter I will analyze the viewer’s interpretation
of self-portraits. I will discuss the creation of self-portraits
in the last chapter of my thesis.
of the self in self-portraits is a function of the interpretation
of art. Self-portraits in general acquire meaning in the process
of interpretation; they do not have meaning embedded in the represented
likeness. On the level of realistic representation self-portraits
only represent the likeness of the author, nothing more.
soon as the concept of self is introduced into the interpretation
of the self-portrait, the meaning of the self-portrait shifts to
the higher, abstract level in which the image does not refer to
visual experience, but to a concept. The meaning of the referred
concept depends on the cognitive framework of the interpreter, not
the author. In this way a self-portrait is simultaneously a mirror
of the artist’s face and a mirror of the viewer’s mind.
I will next provide support for this position.
his study What is painting? Julian Bell calls the type of representation
in which the image refers to a concept “symbolic representation.”
 In symbolic representation the image functions as a type of
a sign. Bell describes the mental process behind symbolic representation
as “expect that when you see that picture you will think that
meaning.”  Symbols can communicate abstract concepts, but
they need a shared context for their understanding. Symbols would
have no meaning without a system in which things stand for other
things , or concepts. Artists can create personal symbols, but
they cannot expect that viewers will be necessarily able to decipher
their intended meaning just upon looking at the artwork.
analysis of interpretation can be found in Robert Salso’s
book Art and Cognition. According to Salso two types of context
play a role in the observation of art: the physical composition
of the visual field and the personal history of the viewer. 
personal history of the viewer, which engages his knowledge and
the social and political setting in the interpretation of art, is
called “higher-order cognition”. Although basic visual
information is similarly organized by all people, because of differences
in our personal histories, each of us has different perspectives
in the observation of art objects. The meaning of the art, its semantic
value, is subject to wide individual differences in interpretation.
The interpreted meaning depends on both the observer’s previous
specialized knowledge of art and his knowledge about the world.
type of cognitive process employed in the interpretation of art
is top-down processing in which hypotheses about the nature of reality
play a central role. Top-down processing is based on the application
of schemata -- organization of the information in one’s long-term
memory and rules of their use and combinations. The activation of
schemata allows us to make inferences about the art and to construct
a larger interpretation and understanding.
schemata are influenced by one’s knowledge about art. Solso
gives an example: if we see Degas’ painting we may activate
our “impressionism schemata”. If we see Andy Warhol’s
we may activate our “pop art schemata”. 
Solso describes the creation of schemata: “Through our vast
experience with the objects and ideas of the world, we form generalized
impressions, or “idealized” forms, much like the Platonic
forms. Thus, when I ask you to conjure up an image of, say, a teacup,
it is likely that your image is one of a “standard”
teacup, that is, more or less, an idealized image...”. 
These images reside in the memory and derive from numerous experiences
with a large variety of cups. The process we apply to tea-cups,
we also apply to persons: “Individual personalities also represent
a type of idealized form, much like teacups. When you characterize
the personality of a close friend or popular figure, you select
salient and more or less permanent traits of that personality. Further
subdivisions are feasible until a composite structure of the personality
is attained.” 
my opinion, within “art schemata” we could find a “self-portrait
schema” which tells us what a self- portrait is. A “Self-portrait”
schema overlaps with “self schema” which defines for
us what a person is.
Chapter 2 I discussed various interpretations of Rembrandt’s
self-portraits, and I stated my agreement with the position that
Rembrandt’s portraits and self-portraits are suggesting an
essential self through certain formal qualities of the representation
of the likeness of the sitter. Such qualities are shades, specific
facial expression and realistic rendering, which trigger an emotional
response in the viewer.
hold that it is a common mistake to posit a transcendent referent
of an artwork as the cause of a strong emotional response that that
particular artwork has on the viewer. It is enough to remind one
that what we call “primitive art” played a magical,
not an aesthetical, role in tribal society, and this is because
of its potential to evoke an emotional effect and stir the imagination.
Many paintings we today consider to be masterpieces of art were
originally designed for religious functions in the Catholic Church
and the mass.
is invalid to ascribe a metaphysical referent to an art object that
has a strong emotional impact. But throughout history, such art,
which suggested a metaphysical referent, was consciously used to
evoke such a reaction in the viewer. If an artwork does cause some
vague feeling we cannot name, if it appears that there is something
“unspeakable” in art (and here I am thinking about such
art as Mark Rothko’s paintings), then it has to be treated
as an aesthetical, not a metaphysical, phenomenon. It is a mistake
to consider that such art refers to a transcendental entity.
that’s why I hold that Rembrandt’s self-portraits do
not refer to a transcendental Self. I believe that the illusion
that they achieve such a referent rests on Rembrandt’s mastery
of suggesting transcendence, developed through the history of religious
art, such as Michelangelo’s. But, if Rembrandt’s self-portraits
do not refer to the essence of his person, what do they refer to?
In my opinion they refer to our concept of Rembrandt, which we interpret
as his self if we try to imagine how he may have seen himself. Such
a self should be understood not in terms of Aristotle’s “essence”,
but in terms of Wittgenstein’s concept of a family resemblance.
All we see are family resemblances of Rembrandt’s likeness
in various Rembrandt’s self-portraits, and from that family
resemblance we construct a unique identity and call it the self.
1. Julian Bell, What is Painting? Representation
and Modern Art (New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999), 208.
2. ibid., 210.
3. ibid., 212.
4. Robert Solso, Cognition and the Visual Arts
(Cambridge, Massachussetts: The MIT Press, 1999), 101.
5. ibid, 102
6. ibid, 116
7. ibid, 120
8. ibid, 121