Connect the Dots | "Narcissus"
I noticed most of my close friends have started using social media as a promotion tool, including myself. A self-promo of projects we’re involved in, events we’re attending or organising or just as a signal of what we’re doing. I guess that’s what it is meant to be, a sharing platform for people close to you, broadcasting your life to others.
But what it is, is rarely sincere. Even at our most rational, even when the description is dry, even if we attempt to just bluntly show what we’re up to, it is a projection of what we want others to see. That will always be a distorted view.
Rarely do we see honest posts, vulnerable content or truly, uncompromisingly raw human conditions. The problem here isn’t with social media itself, but our own concepts of perception, perhaps even our obsession with perception.
Being truly vulnerable is an exercise, not just a mood or mind-state we can easily tap into. Why would you even want to be in that state all the time? It’s hurtful, exposing and uncomfortable. That’s why we build defences, which usually consist of projections, stuff we want others to see and perceive.
These days this means a carefully branded projection of a personality. Not of what “is”, but what “could be” or “should be”. Literally, every person on a social media site is (willingly or not) a brand. The words we chose, the images we post, all of it is supporting and building the brand of our personality, which (largely) doesn’t even reflect the true picture of ourselves. Like the iceberg symbolism, what you see is 10% of what is the entirety.
To turn this more personal, I’ve fallen to this quite badly and was a part of this (and still largely am) for most of my life. I’m not necessarily talking about social media, just everyday life. I rarely talked about what I felt, what I thought, I rarely let people honestly know what was happening to me or around me. I thought I was not interesting enough to share these things or I felt like I was being too vulnerable if I let anyone close.
In these conditions you let people assume. That is a projection. Voluntarily or not, I let other people build the persona of who they thought I was because I never let them know my side of the story. They built the story for me.
This is where this particular illustration comes into play. The candle was chosen specifically, a bright and warm light, on its’ own, representation of the individual and it also lent itself perfectly to the distorted image of hiding and withholding of reality. The mirror is quite obvious, the site of the projection, where we place the image we want others to see. The devil is in the details with this one, with the small symbols thrown on the sides.
Let’s start with the images inside the mirror, reflecting the room behind the visible field. The painting in the upper left corner is Caravaggio’s Narcissus, the myth of the Greek demigod who fell in love with himself.
One day Narcissus went into the woods to hunt. He was seen by the nymph Echo, who fell in love with him instantly and started following him. Narcissus noticed and Echo revealed herself. She tried hugging him but was promptly pushed away and told to leave him alone. Echo retreated and roamed the woods for the rest of her life, slowly wilting and disappearing until all of what remained of her was a sound in the forest.
Nemesis heard of this. She was the goddess of revenge and retribution and didn’t take kindly to Narcissus’s treatment of Echo. Nemesis led Narcissus to a pond on a hot summer day. Upon seeing himself in the reflection of the pond, Narcissus fell in love, not knowing he was looking at himself. When he realised he could not materialise his love, he decided to commit suicide.
This painting fit the idea behind this ideally. From the theme, the deep, dark contrast and dramatic use of chiaroscuro, everything about it made it the perfect candidate for this piece.
The one next to it, to the right, is a painting by Norman Rockwell. The decision for him was made purely because to me his work seems overly sentimental and “pure”. It seems like a vision of reality which doesn’t reflect reality at all, it highlights what could be or should be, but rarely does it interpret what is. The people seem very polished, the ideas truly idealistic, like the paintings are calling for a vision of how we should behave or strive to be. Again, an image of what you want others to see but not necessarily the image which exists.
The image below the two, on the left, is a simple study of a bouquet of flowers. No particular artist to this one, because the symbolism is tied to the single rose on the table, to the right of the candle. The bouquet is extravagant, fruitful, flowing and rich, it is the vision of the perfect still-life. But the single rose on the table is withering and slowly dying in silence, like Echo in the forest.
The ink holder is spilled on the table, the pen is old and unusable and the diary is stripped of pages, left to only a few, most of them viciously torn away. The person behind the pages is deliberately ripping out the truth, hiding it and throwing it away, unable to face the reality of their life.
The three books on the left are also specifically chosen. The top one is the famous tale of Robert Louis Stevenson “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. The story of dichotomy, two-faced nature, one man with a split personality disorder. Two sides to one coin. Underneath it is Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, a story of a man who sold his soul for eternal youth. The price was paid by his portrait, which decayed slowly but surely, reflecting his true identity. At the bottom is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, a contemplation of one individual and his theory that some men are above the law and that they even make the laws. A story where Rodion Raskolnikov’s (the main protagonist) vision of himself ends up not reflecting the truth of reality. All three books have one thing in common; the yin-yang reality of their protagonists, where they see life as one thing but it is not accurately reflected, although in different circumstances and different values/parameters.
The main object, naturally, is the candle. The mirror reflects the perfect posture, the perfect texture, the perfect vision of a candle lighting up the room around it. What we see is the truth; a battered, bruised, used and abused candle, which is burning itself to the ground, slowly eradicating its power. What is bringing light and warmth is exactly what will bring it death. Yet the obsession to appear perfect is too strong, the truth too harsh and the end result becomes inevitable.
Maybe today it seems more important than ever to appear happy, to be perceived as ambitious, determined and driven. Appearances dictate more and more each day and we rarely go below the surface. We settle for what is there; we read the titles but rarely the articles, we breeze social media and just look at the photos, never reading captions. We look at the food on the shelf and decide on appearances which we prefer, unless the price dictates otherwise.
The substance can be impeccable but if the visual to it is not appealing, we will most certainly ignore it. We are wired to do this, because today we don’t have time…no time to properly process things, to properly assess situations, we have to have everything on the go.
If you really want to get to know someone, live with them or lend them money. Eventually the facades will fall and the truth will be revealed. Those who appear to have their shit together the most are sometimes in the toughest of inner struggles. The truth is hidden somewhere deeper. For that, we have to look behind the mirror.