Anything can be a mirror. That is something I absorbed from “The Mirror and the Palette” by Jennifer Higgie.
This will be the last episode about that book. It inspires me in so many ways, but other sources also inspire me. So, I am determined that this will be the last episode for “The Mirror and the Palette.”
It is a book about female self-portraiture. And one of the reasons it is titled thusly is that once upon a time, women weren’t allowed to join life drawing sessions, where you could see living, breathing human models. So, if women wanted to depict humans from life, they had no choice but to use themselves as models. They used a mirror to observe themselves, and to draw and paint themselves, creating self-portraits.
So, without mirrors, their artworks may never have existed. The mirrors reflected their world.
But I also think that a different kind of mirroring was happening, simultaneously. Not only did the mirrors reflect the world, but also the artworks mirrored the world as well, and not merely because the artist portrayed what was in the mirror onto the canvas. Rather, it was because once something went through the artist, the world couldn’t be the same. When these women were portraying themselves from their mirror reflections, they put their world, something that isn’t universal outside of themselves, into that work.
In that regard, a particular artwork itself is a mirror that only a particular artist can create.
But more broadly, I think anything can be a mirror of anything else. It’s because we always see ourselves in other things. Art or otherwise, mirror or otherwise. Our self determines what we see.
That is why I doubt that there are two people in the world who look at a painting and absorb the exact same thing, or listen to a song and absorb the exact same thing. In fact, I doubt that the same person would absorb the exact same thing in the morning and in the evening. Because the person changes, and so, what they see mirrored changes, no matter what the mirroring mechanism entails.
Anything can be a mirror.
And of all those many things that can be a mirror, I want to talk about the written format. Because of the nature of writing, writers witness this mirroring phenomenon in many more random ways than those who use other media. And by “writers”, here, I not only mean the novelists and journalists and poets who make a living from writing, but also, any office worker who writes an email or any blogger or anyone who uses a Twitter account. In this day and age, there are more literate humans than ever before. Many people write.
So, I’m saying, all of us have probably experienced before, to varying degrees, just how random this mirroring process can get.
This degree of random mirroring is possible with writing, because it exists nearly completely detached from the writer. This is a unique trait, when you think about it.
Writings are different from paintings.
Sure, in paintings, just like with writings, there are a lot of elements that the viewer can mirror from within themselves. Say, for example, whether or not a viewer recognizes expensive fabric as such totally depends on them. You know, there are people who know if period costumes are depicted correctly or not. I am not one of those people, so what I see in a painting from the 16th century will be vastly limited by what I don’t know, compared to people who do know a lot.
But, with paintings, there are a lot of elements that are predetermined for the viewer. If it’s a landscape painting, you know that the painter was there. And thus, immediately, you can assume a lot of things. If the landscape painting depicts France, then either the artist was born French or they had the means to cross the border.
If the brushstrokes are straight, you know that the painter didn’t suffer from shaky hands.
Also, if a painting uses a lot of color, I think it’s safe to assume that the painter isn’t color-blind, especially if this is a painting from the times when technology wasn’t as widely available as it is now.
These are pre-determined factors that are embedded into a painting that no viewer with a sane mind can change in their heads. These aren’t opinions.
Music shares this ability to embed the creator or performer into itself. You hear the singer’s voice. You know if that person is male or female or maybe they sound neither male nor female. You might also guess their age.
Or, if there are no vocals, you hear the instruments. You can’t unhear a guitar that has been played. From the way a guitarist plays the guitar, you may be able to correctly guess if they have a hangover or not.
Embedded elements. These elements live inside the music and cannot be detached.
Whereas, writing. I think the written format is the medium that is the most detached from its creator. The font can be changed. The line spacing can be changed. The paper on which the words are printed can be changed. The device on which the words are read can be changed.
Writing, basically… there are no biological traits of the creator, at all. No phsyical fingerprint, no physical face, and no physical voice.
This is how writers can so easily have multiple pen names. There might be detail-oriented readers who can discern the differences in stylistic voices, but most readers, including myself, realize the identity of a writer only when the writer chooses to reveal themselves.
Writers don’t perform in real-time. Writers aren’t on the screen. Writers can get a lot of help from technology too. If their hands shake, they can dictate. If their fingers hurt, they can try different keyboards. They could have someone else type, and even then, the writing itself would be of the writer, not of the typist.
And yet. Despite this near anonymity of the written format, some readers like to assume things about the writers based on their writing. This is where the mirroring of the self, rather than the writing or the writer, comes in.
Theoretically, I get that such mirroring of the reader might lead to some correct guesses and justified assumptions. But all the cases that I heard about were just flat-out wrong.
I’ve heard anything from “men can’t write romances targeting women” to “women know nothing about science fiction.” Also,“white people can’t write this” and “black people can’t write this.”
Of course, what’s funny is that in these discussions, usually, the yellow people don’t even have a part. And I’m like, “Hello, yellow person here.”
Not that I wanna be included in those discussions.
In my life, I have never met a person who can tell the race or age or gender or anything at all about a person just based on the text. How short is the writer? How tall? Are they overweight? Underweight? Were they born prematurely? Whatever. It can be anything. It’s nearly impossible to identify a writer by their writing. Add to this that writers, just like actors, can act in different voices, and it truly, truly, becomes very very impossible.
I mean, I mentioned emails earlier. Even in an everyday office setting, guessing correct details about the writer from the writing style itself is just very difficult. The writer isn’t embedded into the writing. The writer could claim anything.
So, usually, you’d be guessing the sex of a person from their first name, instead of from how they write. You can also guess their cultural or racial background from their last name. Their income from the title that they add to their email signature.
But from the writing itself? Nah.
What usually happens, instead of correctly guessing anything about the writer, is that the readers mirror themselves.
For example, my legal name isn’t English. So, a lot of people have a hard time guessing what sex I am. And for some reason, they assume I’m male.
Of course, it could be that they do so because my writing actually sounds male.
But I doubt it. I’m leaning more toward this: many humans just assume, by default, that whoever is emailing in the workforce is male. Or, they see my legal name sounds vaguely Asian, and think that maybe Asian males are more likely to be in the workforce compared to Asian females? Which may be true. I don’t know.
Basically, what I think is that humans don’t consciously choose to think I’m male. They’re just mirroring their default mode into my very simple work email. Literally, like, no opinions in that email at all. Just, say, something about “Hi, let’s make an appointment for three o’clock tomorrow afternoon. Sincerely, Legal Name.”
And from that simple email, they assume that I am male. Like, really often. For a one-on-one email, it’s not that obvious, but when there’s an email chain with multiple people and they start referring to me with “he,” that’s when it gets really funny.
And then I call or there’s a meeting and they see me in person, and there’s that little moment of “Argh! It’s a girl!”
It’s so funny.
But this is what humans do. When there is a gap in information, a void, we fill it with whatever we think is most likely and most normal. And writing leaves a lot of voids. It creates voids.
And thus it creates freedom.
Of course, because of this freedom, writing needs to be branded the heck out of it. It is very possible for anybody to claim that they wrote what you wrote.
Anonymity isn’t something that necessarily has to be overcome, every time. There are funny moments in letting people see what they want to see and letting them think what they want to think.
Anything can be a mirror, but of all the mirrors, writings are the most versatile. There are so many benefits. The multiple pen names. The freedom to create several identities. And also, the amusing moments when the people who assumed things—not necessarily with any evil intentions, but nevertheless, undeniably assumed things—realize that you aren’t who they thought you are.
So yeah. All these mirrors. Fascinating stuff. Anything can be a mirror.
When I talk about “The Mirror and the Palette” or any other work, yes, I am mentioning the work, but mainly, what I talk about comes from me.
Same with the author, Jennifer Higgie. What she talks about when she talks about all these self-portraits is different from what someone else would talk about. The way she structured this book, the paintings she chose to cover, and the very fact that she chose to write this book at all—all those factors are what make this book hers, and no one else’s, even with all the mentions of the artworks from other artists.
She writes the book, I absorb it. I mirror it. You listen to this. You, I believe, will mirror it in one way or another, consciously or subconsciously. And what you mirror will be mirrored by other people in their work. We reflect each other.
It’s like an infinity mirror. Two or several parallels or nearly parallel mirrors are set up to reflect each other. That way, the reflections stretch into infinity, getting ever smaller. That smallness, however, means that the reflections are still there. And their smallness is no indication of their lack of meaning.
- The Mirror and the Palette” by Jennifer Higgie:
Generation X – Shay Raviv
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© 2022 Ithaka O.