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Portraiture and Kristeva

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

I started the week with my Fantasy Exhibition Project. We had pre-recorded it, which was a lot less stressful than if we were to present it live. Even though I tend to really enjoy public speaking, doing a live presentation online just sounded like unnecessary stress. So I was quite relieved to have it presented as a video.

The next day, I asked my boyfriend Jaeden to sit for a painting. I still have some work to do on it, but I’m rather pleased with it so far. Once I have time, I would like to emphasise the shadow on the side of his face and change the anatomy a little bit. As you can see in the before and after picture, I already started doing this in that first sitting, but I still think I could make a few tweaks.

That being said, I want to make sure to not lose the softness the painting has right now. As such, I want to look at portrait artists whose work has a softer feel for inspiration. One such artist is Gwen John, whose work strikes the right balance between softness and contrast. I think keeping her work in the back of my mind (/on my wall) will be very helpful in trying to strike that balance myself. I might try doing some smaller watercolour self portraits to practice this.

The rest of the week was spent wrapping my head around the works of Julia Kristeva. The lectures we were given were relatively difficult, as the lecturer took an unconventional, more literary and performative approach. However, I wanted to write my essay on Kristeva, whose work on the abject had previously captured my attention. And spending longer on the lectures was definitely worth it: they were undoubtedly effective in conveying how the Semiotic can be utilised to bring more nuance to a conversation. They were also a nice gateway to Kristeva, whose writing style is even less conventional than the lecture’s. That being said, here are my notes on Kristeva, which are certainly a lot more conventional (and accessible).

This definitely took far longer than I had expected, unfortunately leaving me with less time to work on my essay. But I definitely think it was worth it, as it has given me a far deeper and multifaceted understanding of Kristeva than if I had just been given a traditional lecture.


John, Gwen, Self portrait, 1902, Oil on canvas, Tate, London.

John, Gwen, The Convalescent, 1918-19, Oil on canvas, Tate, London.

Kristeva, Julia, Powers of Horror (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1980).

Kristeva, Julia, Revolution in Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).

Kristeva, Julia, Murder in Byzantium (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

Kristeva, Julia, Passions of our Time (Columbia University Press, 2019).

Plath, Sylvia, ‘Words’, Ariel (London: Faber, 2010).

Yeung, Heather H., Julia Kristeva: language, aesthetics, politics, transcript, University of Dundee, delivered 15 March 2021.


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