In 1889, French neurologist Georges Valbert declaimed, “it has never been more difficult to be somebody” (Valbert 1889, 692). He theorized that an overwhelming loss of self was one profound symptom of the age of the machine. As Valbert was contemplating the difficulty of defining oneself in an age of “progress,” Belgium artist James Ensor was pictorially expressing an individual-less society, in which both selves and others are absent. His paintings, prints, and drawings, most of which are permeated with masks, skeletons, and chinoiserie, blur the distinction between exotic and banal, indulgence and repentance, and self and other. Although the exotic is sometimes fundamental in the process of self-definition, in Ensor’s case, it was seminal in building a perception of the world as a masquerade.
|Keywords:||Exotic, Identity, Mask, Skeleton, Symbolist Painting, James Ensor, Psychoanalysis, Mirror|
Adjunct Professor and Ph.D. Student, Art History, CUNY Graduate Center and Parsons The New School for Design, New York, New York, USA
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