A look into the inspiration behind the work.

Workings of the Soul #Selfie


What draws you into sharing your life online?

The impressions of digital self-portraits are fascinating to me as being a part of our social media culture. What does it reveal about a person? There are complex human emotions behind each selfie in how it is picked by the 'artist' and then how it is seen by the world in which it is shared.

I believe that the selfie reveals a lot about the individual that is posting it. Most of all if reveals the workings of the soul. It is a reflection of how that person responds to the world around them and how they want to be seen by the world.

Just as the caveman documented their major life events on the walls of their living spaces, we are now able to chronicle our lives on virtual walls with ease. Our life online whether real or invented is developed through our regular postings. We can develop relationships across the world with people we may never meet face to face. Technology has changed the way we interact with the world as well as how we respond to it.

As our individual stories develop online, we allow the world to see us in our uniquely created persona. We can find more people who share our interests or rally like-minded folks to our shared concerns.

We can share our passions or failures with over a billion potential people worldwide on Facebook alone and 48% of posted selfies are shared there. Then there are 350 million photos posted daily on this network. Most amazing, the average user spends 20 minutes each time they log in and can be exposed to 1500 pieces of content when they do. Of course more than 75% of users visit multiple times during a day and spend more than 8 hours a month. This is a lot of life sharing on a single social media option!

The selfie is an important development of this interaction. We are sharing our lives, so we will naturally want to show our face and the faces of the people we love. Humans are social beings and our help to faces tell our story and the easiest way to create that content is with our cellphones.

With photo content easily created I decided to create a series by combining the historical journey of the original painted artist’s self-portrait method and the modern selfie photo. This allows me an expressive visual dialogue for my response on the human condition created by social media and insight on our place in the world at large.

What do you get out of social media? What draws you into sharing your life online?

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Perfect #Selfie


Am I in search of the “Perfect #Selfie?”

Am I in search of the “Perfect #Selfie?” I think not. I believe have full knowledge of my defects but “Body Dysmorphic Disorder” is not one of them.  I don’t sit around obsessing over whether or not each painting is a perfect likeness or worry about what others think about the newest piece.  What I am exploring is the idea of #selfies and the effect this new trend has on our interactions on social media.

There is a hot topic trending about #selfies being an addiction and some psychologists are advocating for this addiction to be classified as its own disorder.  REALLY? Don’t you think that this behavior is simply a symptom of something that has been present all along?

We have evolved to be a media centric society. Our cell phones are present and being used when we sit at a table face to face. I know I am guilty of it on occasion. When I go out with friends and family my life, my artwork is right there in my pocket and I share what I’ve been doing by presenting my phone. It’s easy and convenient, if something comes up in conversation that I can’t answer, I “Google it”, mystery solved.  Even my dad in his late 70’s has upgraded to a smart phone so that he can talk to the phone and get answers and when he grew up the outhouse was the bathroom available, mind blowing!  

Back in the day people kept “diaries” of their daily activities which were written by hand in a blank book.  Were these people obsessive? The novelty of hand written life chronicles are now available with new techniques and it is expressing itself in the context of the media. I maintain that this is natural to the human behavior that has existed through time. People use what is easy and expedient and a photo of self is worth 1000 words. The human face is the most expressive part of the human body and over time a group of #selfies will provide an encyclopedia of the poster’s life. You couldn’t do that in a diary.

Sure I can pull out a single instance of some poor kid so obsessed with the perfect selfie that seemingly eludes him to the point of suicide. But what about the millions of ordinary people who create millions of selfies that do not get obsessed; one case does not make a problem or a need for a new disorder. Even if we could track down 1000 people, it still wouldn’t be anything but a symptom of an already defined disorder that would express itself in some other way if cell phones didn’t exist. It could be the obsession for the perfect word to describe oneself.

In our media centric behavior there is too often a single case that becomes the rally cry for change. Although tragic, one child who has a heart defect that went undetected and dies on the football field does not mean that annual physicals should include MRIs for every child wanting to play school sports.  Sometimes bad things happen and this too is part of the human condition.

So this “new” selfie behavior is nothing “new”.  Humans express themselves in ways that are available and simple.  We can just now see more of it through the voluntary digitization of our lives.  

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Vanity? #Selfie


Are selfies self-indulgent and full of vanity?

Are selfies self-indulgent and full of vanity? One of my posts yesterday from my selfie feed initiated a debate about selfies and social media. The post was “Scientists Link Selfies to Narcissism, Addiction & Mental Illness.” I think that the article is loaded with unreasonable bias as most news stories are.

In my point of view, selfies offer a way to put a face and expression onto an inherently faceless online medium.  There is a new found freedom when we take a selfie to share with our friends what we are doing at that moment. It is a snap shot of our lives. It is a way to share and look back on events in your life and remember what was happening.

People are now chronicling their lives and sharing through photos easily taken with the technology that is available. Images are simply another way humans communicate. Artists have been creating images throughout history to tell a story or immortalize an event.  

Just like artists in the past rubbing charcoal on the cave walls, with selfies we can use what is available to us to offer images as we would like to see in reality and put them on our virtual walls and document events in our lives like never before. The problem is what is a piece of my life may not appeal to you and may cause you to turn away or be repelled. Immediately the outrage is spurred and the dark side of social media rears its ugly head – the public stoning by negative posts begins which can tip an already unsteady mental state.

In the article that was posted and sparked debate, there is one instance of a young man’s obsession to take the perfect selfie and when he failed he attempted suicide. This instance of one is not enough information to make a reasonable or accurate decision on the rise of selfies in social media. I believe if the technology didn’t exist, the young man would have found some other fuel for an obsession. Just as everything else in the world, if you have a tendency to be narcissistic you are probably going to find a way to express it, even if that means staring into the placid pond until a goddess turns you into a flower.

People are using their own emotive and rational yard stick to survive the glut of information online and when you can put a face on it we believe we are identifying the problem. But let’s face facts, not everyone is using the same measurements and what you find popular online is not an accurate way to judge reality. 

My question for you today, why is there a need to analyze the reasons for people creating selfies when it is a behavior that humans have been doing since the beginning of time?

Here is the link to the refered to post. https://www.facebook.com/michelle.leivan/posts/10203583368885211

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I Got Nothing #Selfie


How about that for having nothing?

Yeah, I got nothing. I envy people who seem to have a witty comeback for nearly every conversation. Usually I find myself standing in the middle of a group with absolutely nothing to contribute.  The pithy comments usually come later when they are irrelevant to the current conversation or I am alone.

Sometimes it takes me a while to completely process the context of a face to face conversation. I am paying attention to more than the words that are spoken. I am observing the gestures, expressions and the rhythm of the words as they are spoken. When I pay attention to all of that I become an observer rather than a participant.

I am fascinated by people in social context as a result I become a wallflower rather than the center of attention. It is the artist in me and the lure to paint people rather than landscapes.  Sometimes I wish I could have Google Glass so I can simply capture the moments I see to store and recapture the poignant moments on canvas.  (Who has $2000 for an accessory that you don’t own and can’t share?)

What is needed is something inconspicuous, because as soon as you pull out the cell phone to capture the moment, people suddenly put on their masks, the emotional instant is lost.  One possible more economical solution is the new Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch which makes a camera available on your wrist. But somehow that would seem awkward and sneaky to attempt to get a shot as you casually look at your watch like Dick Tracy.

I still have nothing. No witty contributions to the conversation or a way to capture the interesting things that I observe.  It must be a little spring fever and my imagination whirring away at the possibilities to integrate technology into my work. Of course I don’t need any of those gadgets to continue with my selfies.  I am not finished with the “Being My #Selfie” series yet so I’m all good for today even if I still have nothing.

I can simply continue with my blissful nothingness.  “You know nothing John Snow.”  This doesn’t stop John from moving forward with his goals.  I think I’ll take a cue from him and just keep moving forward.

How about that for having nothing to begin with?

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Failure #Selfie


Do you think a 15% failure rate is acceptable?

Sometimes things happen that you have no control over. Last week I had a potentially devastating breakdown in my technology. The laptop that I had for less than 3 months and had been relying on almost exclusively had a hard drive failure!

After the initial freak-out, I took a moment to breath and realized that I had already taken precautions for this situation with a cloud back up. Although not an instant fix, the data I depend on for my business and my art still exists out there in the cloud, thanks to Backblaze, http://www.backblaze.com.

This was an unexpected hitch in my schedule and it affected everything in my life for several days. Nearly everything got put on hold just to address this one problem.

I spent a few hours on the phone with the computer manufacturer to convince them that the hard drive was actually not working so I could use the warranty to send it in and get it replaced. Although the guy on the phone was patient and helpful, I still began to wonder if I could ever fully trust the computer even if I did get it fixed.

Then I began to wonder how many people have their technology go down? I did some research for laptop failures. Would you believe that out of all the manufacturers out there, none are less than 15%?

I guess it is true that there are many computers manufactured on a Friday (14.2%) end of the week attitude and it looks like that maybe there are some created with at Monday hangover as well.  If you are curious about the manufacturers, take a look here http://lifehacker.com/computer-manufacturers-ranked-how-to-pick-a-laptop-tha-1467145338/all.

I started to consider how those statistics are reflective of the human condition. We expect that when we buy something that it work perfectly all of the time.  So I asked myself, is this unreasonable? I came to the conclusion, even though it seems high, it is reasonable to expect at 15% failure rate on anything that is touched by human capabilities. It is impossible for us to be perfect all of the time and so we should take precautions to protect the things that are important to us and be reasonable with our expectations.

This is a lesson that I am going to go forward with: Have a goal and try to meet it, but don’t beat yourself up when unexpected things fall along your path. View it as a detour, deal with the issues and then get back on track as soon as possible.

So today I think I am back on track with my “Being My #Selfie” series.  I can’t promise that life or technology won’t get in the way again. But when it does, I’ll be kind to myself and take the time to deal with it and move forward just like this last week.

How about you, do you think a 15% failure rate is acceptable?

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Realization #Selfie


Will you join me on this journey? I make it super easy and fun!

This post marks my 50th “Being My #Selfie” painting in the last month and a half. When I look back and consider the journey so far, I realize that the only way to accomplish anything is daily progress. Including sticking with a schedule and expecting only that something must be done each day toward the goal even if you are not real sure what that end game is going to look like.

Initially I was thinking that artists have created self-portraits throughout history and these were the original selfies. These artists didn’t have the advantage of today’s technology to get immediate feedback on their work as artists do today through the web. I decided I wanted to explore the possibilities and take a personal journey combining the new presentation opportunities online with a traditional method of creating the images.

As with any creative project, there are realizations and discoveries that happen as you get absorbed, and dare I say obsessed with the venture.

The big thing that I didn’t envision in the beginning was the development of a new website http://meme-a-leivan.com to encourage people to use my images for their own expression. The site is simple; you are immediately presented with a range of emotional images and when you see the one that fits your thought, click through to add your own expressive, witty thoughts. Finally you are offered a variety of ways to share it online. There is also a library of recently created memes to share as well as an opportunity to vote on your favorite.

Most artists would cringe if you used their work. My shift from that mindset was the idea was that emotions are universal and relatable. It seems a natural idea to open the door to making them easily available for people to use on social media. Bringing people into the mix of my exploration of the role of this technology created an even deeper study of the subject. Do you have pithy thoughts or ornery replies to ideas that have been posted on your timeline?  I invite you to join me in this project by making memes of your own to share with your friends!

What does the next few months hold? I am not sure; although trite, the truth is it is the journey not the destination that matters right now. I am thrilled that you are taking the time to follow my progress and your comments and feedback are always welcome. Better yet, become a part of the journey by using my meme maker and share your reactions to the world with your friends and family! http://meme-a-leivan.com

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Foole #Selfie


What do you think of my new look for summer?

This is going to be my new look for summer! I think that Miley Cyrus is one of the most entertaining and imaginative artists in the entertaining industry and I’m going to strive to be more like her.

Ha ha, April Fools’ Day! Really! I’m thinking that is the funniest thing I could ever strive to be and I don’t understand why even Miley Cyrus would strive to do the things she does. Exhibiting herself in a raunchy sexual manner doesn’t make her appear grown up; it actually makes her appear even more childish. Many rebellious young people seem to miss the idea of self-respect when the set out to thumb their nose at the world and usually this comes back to bite them in the tail they use to twerk with.

In the past the fool or jester in a king’s court was considered a wise man because they would often show alternative ways to view an issue. I am not sure what issue performers who choose to rehash shocking material that has been done already is trying to enlighten us on. Unfortunate for them, the shock value has pretty much worn off and now it is just trite and the reaction becomes an eye roll rather than a call for understanding the rebellion. When we strive to be a mimic we can only be a shadow of those we are flattering with our copy.

It is especially tiresome when someone with an already solid reputation chooses to insult not only their current audience but also the entire gambit of anyone catching a glimpse with the rehashing of material already done well in the past. Why throw away what is working just to make a lame attempt at shocking your audience. *** YAWN***

Ok, maybe I’m being rough on little Miley. It is clear she has strived to put aside an opportunity to be a positive role model to perform nearly pornographic and demeaning behavior that can only be a bad attempt to gain publicity. She is young and still able to recover from her mistakes when she grows up. I just hope that it is sooner rather than later.

Enjoy the fooles around you today; they will entertain you by sacrificing their own self-respect.

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Critic #Selfie


What are the unexpected reactions to your #selfie?

 “You can get away with doing that because you are beautiful.” As the astonishment wore off of that statement I asked “What are you talking about?”

What my friend was talking about was my “Being My #Selfie” series. Naturally when I see my fellow artists the subject of what we have been doing in the studio is one of the first things that come into the conversation and a critique of the work is expected and appreciated. These are valuable because you can get insight into what you are doing and how others see what you are creating.

This time her comment was so unexpected nearly floored me. The subject of my own beauty was the furthest thing from my mind as I am developing this series.

I have never thought of myself in such terms, average - yes, not repulsive - maybe but never beautiful.  Beautiful is an arena I don’t care to be a competitive player in. In my youth when young women begin to apply makeup and attempt to compete in the “Beauty” arena, I quickly realized that there was a lot of work and money that went into playing that game. Even being the people pleaser that I was in my youth, I was able to go beyond the peer pressure and decide that I had other things to worry about. I concentrated on grades and developing my talents rather than to spend time in front of a mirror.

Now as an adult, I can analyze this just a bit further and discover that it was probably a self-image issue. I didn’t believe I was beautiful so I didn’t want to spend time looking at myself or put the effort into trying to convince anyone else that I was anything but myself.

The products in my makeup drawer expire well before the product is used and sometimes it has only been used once or twice. And I cringe every time I walk into the beauty isle to get more, usually because there is a business meeting or formal occasion coming up and I think that it is socially expected to put my face on and look my best for the event. My daily routine means there is no makeup and very little mirror time.

Believe it or not, even though I am painting my own face every day, I don’t think of these paintings through the lens of vanity, but as a form of artistic expression.

As I paint, I look at the image of myself as a subject, like I would a still life or a flower. There is something else going on in the right side of the brain, looking for the shapes and subtleties that make up a face rather than it being ME. It could be my husband or any other person.

The fact that I am studying myself really doesn’t come into the equation of whether or not it is a good composition or an interesting expression that I would like to paint. But of course I can’t escape the truth of who I am painting and I use the opportunity to explore my inner self while painting my outer self. So you can see now how my friends comment about my own beauty came as a shock.

There are views out there about selfies being a vanity that our youth are participating in. I think it is a way for people to wrestle with the social expectations of the world and their place in it.  I have found that even the expressions I have chosen to paint reflect that same search for meaning of the human condition in our ever changing world.

With my “Being My #Selfie” series my intention is to explore the role of social media in our lives and usually that starts by examining our own thoughts and feelings on what we are exposed to.

Do you find yourself in critique mode with the selfies people are offering online?

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Freedom #Selfie


Would you rather be an American or an American’t?

Do you have any idea what it means to be truly free?  The concept seems to be falling into a muddled mess and there seems to be more victims daily that are held up to show just how unfair the world is.

I don’t know about you but I learned in kindergarten that the world isn’t fair. This is the first wonderful thing about living in the US. It is the only place in history you can actually create your own wealth with your effort and your mind....

There are loads of examples of honored Americans with rags to riches stories. If you stop and think about it, they were willing to risk everything to make their visions reality.  Have you ever dreamed that their story can also be yours if you desire it enough to make it happen? What would you be willing to risk?

I think with the freedom to choose we also must accept the freedom to get another job if we don't like the one we have, the pay we are getting or the benefits they offer. Or ultimately, create our own job because you will never truly experience freedom while working for another. 

Think outside the box! Exercise your FREEDOM!

If you don’t choose to maximize the liberty you currently have you are only holding yourself back.  Don’t be surprised or offended when I slap your hand like a child when you put it out and claim to be a victim when you are a capable adult with choices that you have made and have to now live with.

I refuse to be held hostage by your bad choices and I take offense at you expecting me to save you from yourself. I see too much of this expectation on the news.

If I went around saving everyone I would quickly have nothing left to give – I would be broke spiritually, mentally, physically and monetarily. Then I would be standing there getting my own hand slapped.

Your independence is right in front of you, just reach out, grab it and refuse to be a victim. Use your talents to bring something amazing into the world. Because when it comes right down to it, you are amazing and you need to give yourself permission to express it. Would you rather be an American or an American’t?

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Einstein #Selfie


Why do you think we can let small things give us pause and make us check ourselves?

There are all sorts of fun tests online. They can reveal things about ourselves that maybe we didn’t know before. Last night I was prompted by a friend to take a test on Facebook and learned something that I only suspected.

I took the IQ test at www.arealme.com it is a quick 20 question quiz. I encourage you to go take it. It is a little challenging and I recommend if you are going to try it to be fresh and undistracted. They claim that the average score is 90-100 just like a typical IQ test. I was surprised to get a score of 160 – Einstein!

As the pleasure of beating my friend’s and husband’s score wore off, I began to wonder how valid the test was and if I was living up to my own potential. Where is my Theory of Relativity? Einstein was only 23 when he came up with that world altering concept! Am I concentrating on the right things?

I have a tendency to push myself to depression and have been working really hard to evaluate my accomplishments fairly. Thank you arealme.com for telling me something I didn’t know about myself and making me reevaluate what I’m capable of doing! Frustration set in for a few moments.

With that in mind, I came to the conclusion that I am pretty darn happy with the way things are and the progress of the things I am working on. Also, I probably will never know for sure the impact of my own endeavors and maybe I’m doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.  Even though there is always room for improvement, surly I wouldn’t be as satisfied with my life so far or be happy enough to dedicate my time to my work.

With my anxiety cleanly behind me, I came up with one more question. Why did that little quirky 20 question quiz make me reexamine anything? What does that say about me? 

Now I’m asking you, why do you think we can let small things give us pause and make us check ourselves?

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