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Illuminating Self-Portraits
Painting: 'Illuminating Self-Portraits 1'
Painting: 'Illuminating Self-Portraits 2'

Make Your Own Portrait

We enable people to create written self-portraits which express what they want others to know about them. We help them to clarify their tastes, attitudes and goals in many different aspects of life; and to sum up the conclusions they have drawn from their experiences in their own words. Our goal is to create portraits from all nations, to discover who inhabits the earth.

Click here for the Muse Portrait Database which contains a sample of our portraits from around the world.

If you feel inspired and would like to write your own self-portrait then please contact us, telling us a little about yourself and what you care about in life. We will then begin a conversation with you and advise you on how to proceed.

Painting: 'Two Tuesday'

When the Muse helps people to make a self-portrait, it does not interview or interrogate, but starts a conversation. We exchange ideas, so that each party to the conversation is stimulated by the experiences of the other to reflect in a new way on his or her own hopes.We encourage a focus on the future rather than the past. We do not pretend to be analysts or counsellors.

Our ideal conversation creates equality between the participants, and is based on reciprocity. Making a self-portrait is an adventure in conversation, in which each reviews their choices in life and helps the other to see other choices.Painting: 'Bit1'


Painting: 'Bit2'In addition, a Muse Passport, which individuals write themselves, distilling the essence of the portrait, provides a more stimulating and thought-provoking introduction than the conventional business card or curriculum vitae.

We use these documents to promote encounters, conversations and joint experiences between people from different backgrounds who do not normally meet. Those who have made their self-portrait help newcomers to make theirs.


Painting: 'Fan and Seaweed'

Below is some further information about the Muse portraits that we have collected so far.

Theodore Zeldin's book Conversation discusses how conversation can renew love,
friendship, family life, work as well as relations between strangers.
Painting: 'The Proposition'

Video Portraits

Gideon Koppel, director of the film Sleep Furiously, has been recognised as being “at the vanguard of a new generation of British film makers poised to take over from the likes of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh”. He has been collaborating with Theodore Zeldin in inaugurating a programme of video self-portraits and portraits, and about thirty have now been made. The National Portrait Gallery in London has twice organised exhibition-meetings to discuss this innovative work. We welcome participation by both established film makers and novices.

Some examples of ten minute video portraits made by MA students at Royal Holloway College University of London under Gideon Koppel’s supervision can be seen on the Home Page.


Painting: 'Flattery'

A New Kind of Portrait

Every time people develop new aspirations, they need a new kind of portrait. In the middle ages, when they were more concerned with a person’s ancestors and property than personal talents, it was enough to have a coat of arms rather than the likeness of a face. The flattering portrait, making one look as rich and beautiful as possible, was invented to satisfy the search for higher status and the hunger for admiration. A longing for immortality produces the impassive boardroom portraits which are like tombstones made to be hung on a wall. But when every individual is perceived as a psychological enigma, the artist becomes an interpreter of the mystery, and is glorified even more than the subject. The instant photographic snapshot coincides with the belief that everyone can be interesting but also that everything is relative and disposable.

Today, the rejection of role-playing and deception in relationships, the discrediting of political and business heroes who lie, the condemnation of racism and discrimination, mean that appearances count for much less than they used to. A portrait has to say much more when transparency and honesty become supreme values, and when there is a growing awareness that humans are infinitely complicated, that they are not entirely what they appear to be. So the Muse is trying to develop a new kind of portraiture. We want to go beyond just capturing a mood or hinting at a character.

We invite everyone to participate actively in the process, so that instead of meekly agreeing to be judged or categorised, they put forward their own interpretation of themselves. Our goal is to reveal as many sides as possible of an individual, the doubts, dreams, affections, and everything that shapes their understanding of life. We envisage a new kind of heraldry, which allows the representation of all that is most important to a person, the objects, places and people they love, the experiences they treasure and not least the hopes they cultivate. Our aim, eventually, when we have the resources, is to create an international multi-media portrait gallery, using text, film, photography and sculpture, but always enabling the individual to say: ‘I am not what I appear to be’. Universities are built around libraries. We hope the Muse will one day be built around a new kind of art gallery.

Secret Thoughts


Painting: 'Come Back'

The world is filled with polite, shy, inscrutable, unintelligible, tight lipped, superficial, dishonest and also honest people who for one reason or another do not say what they think. The search for freedom of speech has barely begun. Many do not reveal their thoughts because they are not sure what they think. Many would be braver in their speech if they were more certain of a sympathetic hearing. Many, particularly in places where success depends on conformity, are schooled to be hypocrites. The hidden thoughts in other people’s heads are the great darkness that surrounds us.

Illuminating that darkness could be the great adventure of our new century, both through brain and cognitive science which have suddenly made enormous strides in unravelling the processes of thought, and through changes in our habits. Our attitude to free communication is still shaped by the Enlightenment which believed that superstition and prejudice were the main obstacles to clear thinking and that education and legislation were enough to liberate it. But understanding the implications and motivations of what others say is still a challenge. We need a second Enlightenment to penetrate the many darknesses that remain.

There are many thoughts that are still-born because the mind is not sufficiently stimulated to bring them fully into being. The pressures of ordinary life are so preoccupying that the more fundamental problems of the art of living are avoided in normal conversation, and what is most important is often least discussed. Politics has been a long struggle against censorship, but self-censorship is more insidious than the silences imposed by the powerful. From the beginning of time, people have been unwittingly using some form of contraceptive against thought.

If thoughts are left to themselves, they remain lonely and limp. They become meaningful to others only when they are fertilised by interaction. Throughout history the focus has been on instilling conventional ideas into supposedly empty heads, failing to realise that making ideas is like making love, as opposed to mere impregnation. Every individual has sensitivities and memories that shape what they absorb. And until ideas have met many different kinds of ideas they cannot know their own value. We need new ways of bringing thinking people together.

How to find the thoughts that the world hides in its head? They are only very superficially glimpsed in votes and polls. Only a tiny minority have even a portion of their ideas published in the media or in books. Confession in religion and psychiatry is strictly private. The study of the habits and mentalities of nations, classes and groups does not necessarily reveal what goes on in the mind of individuals, many of whom feel misunderstood or insufficiently appreciated.

The right to privacy is a necessary protection. But private thoughts are among humanity's most important asserts, containing the essence of its experiences. What is recorded in history is only the tip of the iceberg. A larger portion of human experience can be beneficially shared with others, provided care is taken not to harm anybody in the process. That is possible if people learn how to draw out the lessons of their experience in general terms, and make them relevant to others. Too many people never really get to know their own parents, or never pass on their intimate thoughts to their children, and regret it. Too many people accumulate wisdom in their work that gets thrown into the dustbin when they retire. Governments have traditionally set an example of secretiveness, claiming that chaos would follow if their motives or their incompetence were revealed, but freedom of information has not brought chaos, quite the reverse. Secrecy is the child of fear. We do not need to live in a world held together by lies.Painting: 'Weight-loss Advertisement'

We are interested in experimenting with new forms of portraiture in different media, focusing on more than a face, a mood or an appearance. In addition to our written and video portraits, the sculptor Cathy de Monchaux, the musicians Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware and the author Theodore Zeldin planned an exhibition, Portrait of Humanity, to develop abstract portraiture, each piece being surrounded by a different atmosphere of local sound, music and words. The photographer Charlotte Koolhaas has worked on multiple portraits, and on their use by mobile phones. We need funding to develop these ideas.

We want to go beyond the logo and reinvent a new kind of heraldry. Our ultimate goal, when we find the donor and site, is to incorporate our work in a Muse Gallery of Self-Portraits, which would be the world's first multimedia, international gallery designed to allow individuals to explain themselves and to diminish misunderstanding between them.