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.
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.