January 28, 2023

about one thing Inhabiting a face is the way we can never see it the way other people do. Mirrors give us an upside-down image. Photos freeze us in time at odd angles, sometimes in unforgiving detail. Staring at a phone camera, pretending to check our makeup or dark circles, has given us a hyper-real mirror, but that too has been distorted and turned upside down. Even video doesn’t fully capture ourselves for the simple reason that we cannot observe ourselves objectively. We look too closely; maybe we’re picky, or maybe we’re grateful that we look a certain way. We cannot simply evaluate our perceptions of others.

This is part of the charm of portraiture. It’s not an objective reality of who we are, but a version of how others see us, translated onto the page or canvas. In art museums, I’m always struck and moved that, before photography, the only easy way to see a still image of myself was through a paintbrush, pen or chisel, necessarily filtered through another person’s creative intelligence.stand in front Portrait of Gretchen Osgood Warren and Her Daughter by John Singer Sargentwe see not only what they might have looked like, but also specific things that Sargent saw: the high pink of Warren’s cheeks, the dreamy look of her daughter’s expression, the silvery pink of her dress, the candles behind them in paint. The brushstrokes fade into the background. The way her shawl drags to the floor is so gray that only Sargent could have seen and drawn it.

Cameras are gradually making the pictures of ourselves we see mundane, but there’s still something magical about having another human being give you this constant creative attention. This is part of the reason why people pay to buy boardwalk cartoons and commission others to paint their likeness in oil. It’s really nice to see how other people see us, to experience a strange, perhaps tenuous connection to their artistic vision. Or, perhaps, their attention: after all, portraits are the result of intense aesthetic attention, and what could be more flattering than having that attention focused on oneself?

Lensa borrows from that appeal in a barren way. But these images are certainly not how another person sees us. They are non-intelligent human eyes that mathematically add together features, lips, nose and eyes to form an approximation of you. In my opinion, there is no real potential for beauty here—not because the images are algorithmically generated (I believe in the potential for computers to create compelling artwork), but because, in my opinion, avatars satisfy neither realism nor Not satisfied with artistry. They are somewhere in between and are mostly used to assess what versions we might look like. Their style imitates fantasy characters, comic books, and heroes, imagining you as a likable spotlight—but even then, instead of elevating your image specifically, they slide your image into generic visual tropes . You can be anyone, in fact, you are!

Of course, the fundamental appeal of an app like this is our own participation. Much has been said about the way the internet fuels self-obsession by pushing us to perform for others: on Facebook, people proclaim mediocre life developments and political views; on Instagram, we interrupt our fun to show others that we have What fun; here on Twitter we dig into our personal lives to make fun of. But there’s also something to be said about how digital tools can act like amusement park mirrors, giving us a private fascination with ourselves. I couldn’t help but stare at Lensa’s hundred half-real versions of my face. (Actually, 110: There are 10 “holiday spirit” style rewards, including one where I stare somberly in my Santa hat.) I’m not sharing these avatars with anyone else. Even those who did make their posts only shared a fraction of what was produced. The images appear to be designed to wow people privately. They’re like lists of the best moments of the year that people post, or memories of dreams—these things, even when shared with others, are always more interesting to ourselves.



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