Self-portraits go back to antiquity when the pharaohs had large sculptures made of themselves and their families out of stone. The artist could always resort to using his own body or face as the least expensive model. All they needed was a mirror and they could paint, sketch or chisel as many techniques as they desired. Creating self portraits helps to improve the artist's skills in whatever medium they choose to use, allowing them to explore various techniques and styles.
The most common kind of self-portrait is done with paints. During the Renaissance Period, painting elegant self portraits were quiet popular. Anthony Van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn are a few artists who provided many painted images of themselves. These works were realistic in nature and extremely detailed.
Photographers often create self-portraits, sometimes for promotional purposes. Other times, they may create them simply for lack of available models, which can be costly and difficult to find. Photographers can play with lighting and other techniques, practicing and perfecting their skill before they try it on other people. If an artist can learn to represent himself in different poses and aspects, then he will learn how to master those skills when photographing others.
Mixed media came along with more contemporary artist such as Diego Velazquez, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and more recently Andy Warhol. The use of sketches, charcoals, collages and photography mixed with paints and other media to provide different versions of self-portraits. Many of the more contemporary self-portraits have a strong sense of narrative, offering glimpses into the artist's life.
When an artist uses symbolism in his self-portrait, he creates a piece that goes beyond just a simple representation of his features. The works project the artist's feelings, ideas and life in the objects and scenes that he includes in the piece. Frida Kahlo's self portraits were visual metaphors of her life, her struggles and the experiences she went through, such as the pain she suffered from a trolley accident during her early years. When viewing such works of art, one needs to think abstractly.