It has one thing in common The habitation is the fact that we don’t see the face the same way others do. Mirrors provide us with a mirror image. Photographs freeze time at strange angles and sometimes in incomprehensible detail. While glancing into a phone camera to check our makeup and under-eye circles gives us a super-realistic mirror that is also distorted and mirror. Even videos can’t capture us exactly as we are. We look closely. We may be critical of others or grateful that they see us in a certain manner. We cannot judge how someone might view us.
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This is why portraiture is so appealing. Portraiture is not about the objective truth of who you are, but rather a representation of how someone sees you. This can be translated onto the page or on the canvas. It amazes and inspires me. I discovered it while visiting art museums that the only way to see a still image was through a brush pen, pen, or even chisel. Stand in front of John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Gretchen Osgood Warren and her daughterWe see not only her potential appearance, but also the details Sargent saw. Warren’s dreamy expression, the bright pink of her cheeks, her daughter’s dreamy expression, the silvery pink of the dress, the faded paint strokes from her candles, the soft pink of her dress. Only Sargent could have seen and drawn the way her shawl, gray and fuzzy, traces to ground.
Although it is now commonplace to take pictures of yourself, there is something magical about having someone else give you this kinda creative attention. This is one reason people pay to caricature their boardwalks and take oil photos of themselves. It is a real pleasure to see how another person views us. We also experience a strange, if not tenuous, relationship with our own artistic vision. Perhaps it is their concern. A photograph is, afterall, the product of intense aesthetic focus. And what could be more satisfying that focusing on yourself?
Lensa borrows in a poor manner from this appeal. These images are not how someone else sees you. It is the naked eyes of an inhuman intelligence that combines mathematical features, lips and nose to create a rough image. There is, I think, no real potential for beauty here—not because images are algorithmically produced (I think it’s possible for computers to create compelling artwork), but because glyphs seem to me to be satisfactory neither to realism nor art. They are able to evaluate different versions of what we might be seeing and they live somewhere in between. Their style mimics fictional characters, comic books, and heroes, imagining you in the spotlight—but even in this they fail to specifically lift you, instead relegating your image to generic visual tropes. You can be any person, and you will!
Apps like this have the primary appeal of allowing us to be involved in our own lives. The internet can make us obsessed with ourselves, driving us to perform for other people. Instagram allows us to share our everyday life and political opinions. Instagram allows us to interrupt our fun to show how much we have had. Twitter allows us to mine our personal lives for laughter. There’s something to be said about how digital tools such as fun house mirrors work. They infuse us with an entirely new magic. I cannot help but stare at the near-realistic versions of Lensa’s face. (Actually, 110. There were 10 bonus holiday spirit styles. I also stared moodily in my Santa Claus hat. These avatars are not mine to share with others. Even those who did share a portion of the creations, they were only able to see a fraction. These images seem to be for privacy admiration. They’re like the lists people post of the year’s best moments, or dream memories—things that, even when shared with others, are always more interesting to us.
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