First-hand: from self-portrait to self-portrait

“The change in appearance. “Without a doubt you would say that the image has now completely changed!” But what is different? My impression? The positi[…]on I took? I describe change as a perception; just as if the object had changed before my eyes. “Now I see this.” This is the form of communication of a new perception.”

Thus Wittgenstein, in the Second Part of Philosophical Research, reveals how the perception of the world, of the other, is constantly in the making. We live our lives entirely in the first person, we approach the new first person, we rejoice and we suffer firsthand. Firmly convinced of who we are, what we want and, indeed, what we expect from others. And sometimes we almost want to mingle us inside our label.

But, firsthand, what perception do we have of ourselves? Very often we act as if it were enough to give someone a Name or something to always remain so. Yet it is good to know that a Name cannot stop the incessant change to which we are all subjected, and that we change in the course of our lives, deluded to always remain the same ” first ” person.

How, then, can we grasp our true essence? Our fragile and unpredictable contingency? To these questions, Heidegger would reply thus: “The work of art opens, in its own way, the being of the institution. In the work takes place this opening, that is, the unveiling, that is, the truth of the institution. Art is the work of truth.”  Nothing, the philosopher continues, is more capable of grasping the deep meaning of things than art: if we try to imagine a pair of farmer's shoes, he proposes the same, as an example, we would have no difficulty in getting an idea of it. But if those same shoes belong to weary peasants who work the land and immortalized in a typical Van Gogh painting then, continues Heidegger: “From shoes promans the silent fear for the safety of bread, the tacit joy of survival to need, th[…]e anguish of the proximity of death”.

V. Van Gogh, A Pair of Shoes (1886)

“In those eternal days, I began to paint. I could only move my hands. I could only see myself: the face reflected in a mirror.” Victim of a fatal accident at the age of 18, so Frida Kahlo tells of how it took a tragic event to really get to know each other – in person. But the self-portrait is not just a mere retraction simulating the same complexion: it is a perception that changes constantly. It is the result of small finely dashed canvases with delicate brushes on which the story of a face materializes. One day the curve of the nose is soft, the other is painted more pronounced and all surrounded by the insidious moods of the moment. “Now I see this,” Wittgenstein wrote, “tomorrow who knows,” “I would add. Brush after brushstroke, correction after correction, the self-portrait becomes a manifestation of the “know yourself”.

Art, ultimately, is unveiling the ultimate substance of things, excellent drug to combat the dryness of mind, escaped from the banal. In a world that has always floated on a lake of sterile clichés, certainties that no one trusts anymore, art has always been able to grasp purity; he turned into amazement what aroused shame and laid bare the deepest intimacy of man, both physical and inner.

Caravaggio, Narciss (1597-1599)

Not a defined form interests the painter “in the mirror”, but the process by which he places himself out of himself, he makes himself foreign to himself and through this movement wants to re-know himself” (Cacciari, 2004). It is undeniable, therefore, as behind a self-portrait there may be a work of introspection, analysis, a work subject to a thousand changes as when, rereading a letter of ours, we realize that we have not made the idea as hoped.

And if self-portrait is nothing more than an example of autobiography, how do we tell ourselves today in person? In the reality of post-modern man we prefer vastness to intensity, we compare ourselves with others rather than with ourselves. We are re-tranged by bits that almost put to the sedan the feeling, the empathy or the antipathy, all children of that “” that is the engine of a man's soul. Today it is no longer necessary to know each other firsthand, today it is crucial to show yourself in the first person. If self-portrait generated a healthy intimacy, lying in time, with one's Self, today there is not to miss a single moment to confirm to others that we are there – leaving out who we are. This is the ultimate essence of the selfie: the brushes are replaced by filters, the perception is supplanted by a quick click, and the mirror resized on webcam.

We are always at the forefront, at first screen but how has our being transformed into the increasingly common virtual relationships? To what extent are we willing to show our authenticity?

“The constitution of a collectively convenient person is a serious concession to the outside world, a real self-sacrifice, which forces the self to even identify with the person, so much so that there are people who seriously believe that they are what they represent” (Jung, 1965)

We live in the immediacy, constantly subjected to the regime of INSTANT SHARE: instant sharing, which – nowadays – sees more realization on INSTAgram, not by chance. Time must be exceeded, the wait canceled, (see this post about the wait). And it is precisely this overwhelming frenzy that radically distances us from the perception , always in pride, of ourselves, distances us from the neighbor and brings us closer to the distant; everything takes on a circular appearance and therefore, always equal to itself.

“What is less so in the age of technical reproducibility is the “aura” of the work of art,” Benjamin (1966) thought in one of his most famous passages more current than ever. The selfie, in fact, has become a syndrome on several occasions: no fixed location on which to invest healthy time, only several angles that are the background to a fleeting vanity.

G. Klimt, Lady with a Fan (1918)

Exposing on firsthand involves different responsibilities but as many satisfactions. It is up to us, however, to clarify what kind of Person we want to be. It is not, as specified above, a Name to label us: people change, transform, mature or regress, and it is essential to pay attention to our becoming; alienating ourselves from our Self means losing the sensitivity of Being Human.  


  • Benjamin, Walter. 1966. The work of art in the era of its technical reproducibility (1935). Turin: Einaudi
  • Hunters, Maximus. 2004. The last thing. Milan: Adelphi
  • Cacucci, Pine. 2014. “Long live the vida!. Milan: Feltrinelli
  • Heidegger, Martin. 1996. The Origin of the Artwork (1950), in Broken Paths. Florence: La Nuova Italia
  • Jung, Carl Gustav. 1965. The Self and the Unconscious (1928). Turin: Boringhieri
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwing. 2009. Philosophical Research (1953). Turin: Einaudi

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