About ‘Art Mirrors Art’ Project

The idea behind this project was very simple.

I thought to gather the art works that depict mirrors and then present them in a somewhat ‘orderly’ manner, to tell the history of ‘mirrors in art’. I didn’t plan to collect all such works (‘perhaps there are a couple of hundreds of these works, that’s way too many‘), but I thought to find a couple of dozens or so of the ‘major’ ones, and to finish the whole business in about ten postings. 

Well…

Let’s say that my assumptions about the simplicity of this enterprise were sightly off base. Just slightly.

I have been busy with this topic for more than seven years by now. I’ve gathered about 12,500+ artworks that depict mirrors, use them in some way or another, or related to the use of mirrors in art. I wrote about 250 postings, some short, some long, some very long.  I have enough materials to write three times more of these postings, easily, if I would have more time. And most importantly, I don’t see any end of this enterprise, increasingly feeling that I merely scratch a surface all this time.

What was the very first impulse for the project is a bit difficult to tell, especially now, after all these years. Like many people, I have been bumping into obvious examples of the ‘mirrors in art’, like the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck’s or Las Meninas by Velázquez’s, during my life, but I can’t recall being particularly fascinated with the ‘mirror part’ of them . I read some academic studies and more popular interpretations of these works (I remember being bemused by how differently people interpret these artworks).

Perhaps it is this multiplicity of interpretations that caught my attention first: I recall writing a long overview of the re-interpretations and re-appropriations of the Meninas by different artists (including fifty something paintings by Pablo Picasso.)

At some point I started to gather these ‘mirror artworks’ more (or less) systematically, and to write short descriptive stories about them. I started to discover for myself both well-known artworks and fairly obscure specimens. Most of them were paintings or photographs (i.e., 2D works), but I also found quite a wide variety of 3D things too, like sculptures or installations (and I should add here tapestries).  Sometimes these were even the mirrors themselves, decorated so lavishly that they would easily go as art pieces.  Of course, when I say ‘gather’ I mean collecting (mostly digital) reproductions of these artworks, not the real paintings or sculptures.

Many similar collections exists already, and their number is only growing, thanks to the platforms like Tumblr or Pinterest. Whether gathered by amateur art lovers or professional art historians, these collections mainly focus on the artistic side of these works, and occasionally on the biographies of the artists themselves. Some of these collections focus on certain themes (for examples, the artworks that illustrate the Bible or depict ‘female beauty’ etc).  

I am obviously interested in these things too, but I feel that my own take is somewhat different. To start with, I am not an art critic or an art historian; I am not even a ‘just historian’.

From time perspective, my background could be seen as the exact opposite to anything ‘historical’. I work in the domain humanities known as ‘future studies’. On a practical side, I help people to think about ‘possible futures’, and to convert this thinking into practical concepts (this type of business is known as ‘strategic innovation’.)

At some point, and with a great amusement to myself, I have discovered that all these random stories about ‘mirrors in art’ can help me in my own work with the futures! After that discovery my interest to this whole ‘hobby’ became very serious.

This discovery didn’t happen at once. It took me a while to see theses connections more clearly, and over time this project started to work as a training platform for me, an ‘intellectual gym’ of some sort, that helps me in my thinking about the futures.

I also found that these mental exercises – reflections about history of technology, history of cultures and societies, and the general history of ideas – may also help other people to  deal with the concept of the possible futures a bit better. 

I tried to summarise these ideas in a separate post, a kind of methodological introduction to this blog, called the Future of Mirrors, Mirror of Future.

This framework is still in a making, and constantly evolves as a result of studying certain topics. For example, the whole history of the mirrors of Prudence was an important addition (even a pivot) to my initial thinking.

Now, speaking about ‘blogs’, I have recently found a very appropriate ‘warning sign’:

It is exactly the way this blog is run, too. The only thing I can add is that English is not my native language, and in addition to all the above issues I also keep making all kind of stupid mistakes – grammatical, stylistic and what not.  You are warned twice, people!

The postings here are often ‘draft & stuff’. They are not aimed at competing with any serious academic or even journalistic publications, and indeed always remain to be very bloggish (and I want to keep them this way).

When I write these postings, I don’t follow any particularly structure, or strategy. One day this may be a story about an exhibition I visited at this very day, and another time I can write about a paintings that I’ve seen years ago. Well aware of this turbulent flow, I also maintain a more (or less) structured overview, a list of all the postings in a chronological, regional and topical order. You can find this overview in the Inventory of Mirrors in Art.

Finally, the copyright stuff. My own texts and the visuals I create myself are under the Creative Commons license (Attribution + Noncommercial, to be precise). In other words, feel free to use and share them, but please provide credits to the creator (=me). If you plan to make lots of money with them, we need to talk.  

As for the other images that I use here, I obviously don’t hold copyrights to any of the art works that I post in this blog.  I am using all these reproductions with research and educational purposes only, adhering to a fair use policy. If you are searching for the copyright owners for these works, you need to search elsewhere.

These kind of intros are usually ended with the calls to Enjoy! or Have fun!  Please do and have those, too, of course. But be also ready to confront your own ideas, to dis-rupt and dis-illusion yourself – or perhaps find new illusions.

7 comments

  1. I work at a very large state agency in a very large state. The agency is in the process of managing change from an archaic culture of barely controlled chaos where success is largely accidental to a culture of planning and (gasp for us) managing work. We have a lot of “voice of the customer” outreach, and during this, we hear too often, “This is how we do it in our area” with little or no projection into a future that could be different. The dead hand of dysfunctional tradition is a major obstacle. Apparently, there are few mirrors in which we can see ourselves and recognize like the 1960s or 70s TV commercials that it’s Shake and Bake, and I helped.

    • Hehe, perhaps we can talk ‘professionally’ 🙂 My agency is small, and I live in a small state, but these are exactly the issues we are helping to explore and resolve.

  2. Congratulations for this website, blog, or whatever these things are called nowadays! I just found it by accident and I am so glad that I did. Your posts are a thoroughly enjoyable read, very in-depth and interesting indeed. I will follow it closely form now on, I can assure you. Allow me you thank you for your culturally illuminating services, by presenting you with a painting that will certainly appease to your reverence for mirrors and reflections, from the magical Golden Age of Dutch Painting that you so often make mention of: http://artifexinopere.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Ludolf-de-Jongh-Le-verre-refuse-1650-55-National-Gallery.jpg

    Best regards,
    Pedro Fonseca e Silva

    • Dear Pedro,

      Thank you very much for your feedback and your kind words! I am glad that you found this blog of some interest for you. Unfortunately, the project has been abandoned lately, due to my professional duties (as you could guess, this project has no direct relationshiops with my main work). Let’s hope that one day soon I will be able to resume writing here on a more regular base.

      I very much appreciate your ‘gift’, this self-portrait by Ludolf Leendertsz de Jongh! It is indeed one of the most intersting examples of self-portraits by the Dutch masters of this age, and I would love to delve a bit more into the story of its making.

      Meanwhile, please do read the previous materials written here, and I hope to read more of your comments in the future!

      Yours truly,

  3. I’ve just stumbled upon your blog and read the Beckmann part I&II piece. Its excellent, thank you, and Im looking forward to reading more. Good to see a couple of pictures illustrated that were new to me, despite major survey at Tate Modern London 2003 and the books I have. Especially interesting, because there is virtually nothing recorded about MB’s technique, was your inclusion of the unfinished final triptych. This triptych gives insight into his working methods (at least at the end period). It looks as if the general areas of colour are applied in pastel, with drawing, probably first in charcoal, then in a turps thinned black or maybe black ink as is suggested in the book “Beckmann and America” where they illustrate a small final picture “Opticians Window” 1950, left unfinished. It mentions that this is one of only two examples of an unfinished work found in the studio, where this starting process can be seen, but obviously this tryptich is another, and very good one too. I like to imagine this would have been a sensational good piece if realised. Interesting to imagine what Beckmann might have been making had he had more active years in NYC and exposure to the AB X scene makers…Im certain all that glass, transparent and reflective material all about him would have fascinated him. I realise its a bit off your subject, but do you have any information regards his working methods, his use of pastel and ink as the starting point for the pictures? Thanks, Greg.

  4. Hi Greg,

    Thank you for your kind words! I am glad to hear that you found my writings interesting and somewhat informative. You are right in noticing that the issue of painting techniques is a bit far from my core focus in this blog, although I do pay attention to these things, too, as they influence the ways that mirrors are depicted. But I can’t cover everything in this truly hobby project.

    Re Beckmann, I remember reading that he was fascinated with stained glass. Indeed, some of his paintings (especially some of the large triptychs) bear resemblance to the stained glass windows. I had a chance to see some of his triptychs, and this is a very moving experience.

    I also recall reading that he used quite a complex, multilayered technique, putting dark pigments underneath many of his otherwise bright paints (but I don’t remember the source by know, sorry). I know little about his late turn to pastel.

    Sometimes I write follow-up postings, in case I find more examples. By now I have a few more interesting mirror-works by Beckmann and, time allowing, plan to write about them. IfI will find something about technical aspects, I will try to include these things as well.

    Have a nice day!

  5. Just fyi: Ive read that regards pastels, he would put the colour down in pastel first, arrive at a general scheme/key to his satisfaction, and then remove one area of pastel at a time with turps, and paint in the corresponding colour…and so on, until completion. some of the last works still have passages of pastel remaining here and there. Why he’d use ink to draw his elements in, on his oil primed canvas canvases…I don’t know…a thinned down black oil paint would have made more sense, but apparently it was ink. I was aware of his attachment to gothic tradition and its stained glass, in this regard like frenchman Roualt (although with different results). Thanks for your reply and enjoyable work.

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