Philosophical Portraiture: Courage and Nobility

About a month ago, Aleksandra completed a philosophical portrait of a woman who is seeking to live the life of a modern mystic (below). In her work on philosophical portraiture, the claim Aleksandra wants to make is that she is not rendering the subject in a too literal form of mimesis as if the photograph of the subject were simply being reproduced in the form of a portrait. To do that would be to assume that the living subject has already, as it were, been transformed or is already finished. Rather, her claim is that philosophical portraiture is a spiritual exercise–both in its activity and in its production–in drawing out what is potentially good and beautiful in the subject but has yet to be fully realized. Specifically, which virtues have yet to be brought out, and how would it be possible–indeed, how best–to do so?


In the original photos, the subject on the viewer’s left showed a touch of timidity while the subject on the viewer’s right was slightly discomposed, flinchingly discomposed. What had to be revealed or realized, therefore, was courage in the face of hardness and hardiness (left) as well as a noble composure in view of her own death (right). I suppose there lies, in the background to this particular work, one of Aleksandra’s larger themes: what, in the present time, does it mean to age well and to live and die nobly?

Philosophical portraiture: ‘What the eyes cannot see’

In Aleksandra’s recently completed philosophical portrait (visible below), the man exhibits soft concentration while the woman exudes a soft composure attained through experience and contemplative practice. Both appear to be thinking together about the non-discursive.


The allusion in the title is to an early Daoist text called Inward Training. In Verse 4, the authors write,

As for the Way:

It is what the mouth cannot speak of,

The eyes cannot see,

And the ears cannot hear.

Philosophical portraiture: The common ear

The screen shot included below is an example of philosophical portraiture by Aleksandra Marcella Lauro. Philosophical portraiture is concerned with the project of self-cultivation–specifically, with how one comes into contact with what is higher. Here, the figure on the viewer’s left is wholesome, earnest, yet naive in the ways of the world. The figure on the viewer’s right is more world-weary, more worldly, less unwise. The common ear shows the way that one can become the other. Listen. The figure who is looking at us is gently holding us to account for our lives. Aleksandra suggests that I am on the humble path which leads from the first figure, who I am no longer, to the second, the man I would like to be.

The portrait can be viewed in full-scale here.

Philosophical Portrait screen shot