You can choose to listen to this post by just clicking the "play" button below.
You may find it easier to focus on the images as you listen. Enjoy!
Read or Listen!
The scene is taking place in a room filled with artworks. But it’s not a gallery—the paintings in the background are not hanging on walls; they look unfinished. (I can imagine the smell of turpentine in the air.) There are also no windows open to the bustle or the outside world. So it’s likely an artist’s studio—a private, quiet, work area. However, at this moment, there are no apprentices or students busying themselves. Rather, the canvases are nicely stacked and the stool in front of an easel is pushed in. It reminds me of a clean, well-ordered office at the end of a workday just before the lights are turned off.
The girl is young and beautiful. She has slim body, delicate facial features, and wavy brown hair, and though she is youthful and attractive, she doesn’t look like a diva or a supermodel. She wears a light blue, patterned dress… but, on closer inspection, it looks more like a robe. Her legs are bare and perhaps her feet as well—she obviously didn’t just come in off the street. She isn’t a socialite at a gallery soirée—she wears no jewelry or make-up. So she might be the artist. But she has no tools around her and her left hand looks too clean to have just been working with clay, marble, or paint. In fact, she looks like the statue, with her slim body and her wavy hair set up in a bun. Indeed, she looks like she is the model for the statue.
Though the girl depicted in the statue looks physically like the model, there are some striking differences. First of all, the girl in the statue obviously isn’t wearing a robe. She is fully, beautifully nude. We see the soft curves of her hips and back that for the model are hidden beneath the crisp lines of a robe. And Unlike the model, who holds her arms protectively over her chest and tightens her robe at her throat, the girl in the sculpture lets one hand dangle at her side and raises the other over her shoulder. And though we can’t see her chest from our angle, we can imagine the soft voluptuous curves of her breasts revealed all the more as she stretches back with her right arm.
What is she doing? Is she showing off her body to someone? She doesn’t seem to have any awareness of anyone around her. Her face looks down and her eyes are closed. But it isn’t from embarrassment or shame. She smiles—a slight, delighted smile. She seems aware of her own body as she gracefully stretches out her left leg and lifts her right arm in a kind of balletic pose. And with her right hand she caresses her shoulder with the tips of her fingers. She seems sensuously aware of her body. She looks like she could be enjoying the warm water of a shower washing over her.
The girl in the statue looks poised and unselfconscious, with her awareness turned inwards taking pleasure in her own body. The model is looking outwards, self-conscious of her body though it is hidden beneath the robe.
The model is seeing a reflection of herself. However, she isn’t simply looking at a mirror. She is seeing herself, not as she is at that moment, or as she typically is, but as she isn’t used to seeing. The girl who holds the robe closed across her chest is staring at a girl who is utterly comfortable with who she is. The model is seeing not only her beauty, but a confidence and grace that she may not have known existed within her or, at least, spent time in contemplating. She didn’t create this reflection, this isn’t how she views herself, but how the artist views her. She is looking at a positive reflection of herself as seen by another.
She stands close, directly in front of the girl, but without an effort to move towards her. She isn’t inspecting the statue to make sure it’s an accurate reproduction, nor is she gawking at it, astonished that this could be her. Rather, she leans back a little as she looks up, contemplative. What is she thinking about? She isn’t staring at the statue’s body, but rather, she’s looking at the face—at what she would recognize as most “herself”. With her soft smile and her eyes raised in delighted wonder she might be thinking, “You are so beautiful, and you... are me.”
It may be that you’ve had an artist create a portrait of you, but you don’t have to be a model to identify with the young girl in the painting. Think of a time when you were introduced to an endearing side of yourself you’d never seen or aren’t used to seeing. Perhaps you stared at an attractive photo of yourself that you didn’t know your friend had taken. Maybe you’ve watched a video of yourself giving an enthralling speech with a passion that you didn’t know you were exhibiting. Perhaps, for Halloween, you looked admiringly in the mirror at the dashing Roman-warrior costume your wore that your girlfriend thought would be perfect. Or, perhaps you’ve read a glowing description of yourself in a recommendation letter written by someone you admire.
Whatever the specific instances you can recall from your life, this kind of moment of noticing unfamiliar, wonderful aspects of yourself, can be a source of deep, meaningful joy. Contemplating this painting, of a young girl who is discovering the beauty and poise that she does embody, helps to remind me of instances of that kind of positive self-discovery that I’ve experienced in the past. And furthermore, it primes my consciousness to notice and savor those moments in the future.
If you have any such moments you would like to share, or you can think of any connections to characters in movies and literature, please feel free to share them in the comments below!
The painting is called Muse and Medium, by Bryan Larsen. If you are ever in the Northern California area, you can see it in person at the Quent Cordair Fine Art Gallery in Napa Valley.
Thank you to Linda Cordair for providing the images!