Halfway by Tofu St. John is a meta-painting because it is a painting about painting. The picture is a self-portrait of the painter doing what a painter does. However, the figure is not holding an artist’s brush, as you might expect, but a decorator’s roller. Painting a wall with a solid color — in this case sky blue — is not usually considered artistic, so this piece creates a tension between painting as art and painting as decoration.
A book within a book, a play inside a play, a picture in a picture, these are examples of mise en abyme, a literary term the French writer André Gide borrowed from heraldry. Pronounced “meez en a-beem,” it literally means “placed in the abyss,” or, more simply, “placed in the middle,” and it was used to describe a shield in the middle of a shield, as in this coat of arms of the United Kingdom from 1816-1837. (Image from Wikipedia.)
You’ll notice that the shield inside the shield has another shield inside of it. You can imagine yet another inside that one and so on and so on, forever and ever, so I like to think of “mise en abyme” as “into the abyss.” The eye travels down the rabbit hole to infinity, as in this photo of a “Lost Wormhole” from Illuminaughty Boutique’s post “38 Mise en Abyme GIFs that Will Make Your Brain Bleed… OR WORSE.”
An overview of major themes I found while studying metafiction for the Metaclass, a self-study course for a masters of literature at San Francisco State University. This summary will also serve as a guide to the posts I have written over the last four months (with notes about a few others I intend to write). It is not meant to be a comprehensive list of meta conventions, but an addition to the the list found under Meta-Meta and Metafiction. (Nor is this intended to be a summary of themes I developed about writing and teaching, the metaclass aspect. Those themes may be found in Putting It All Together: Collaborative and Integrated Reading and Writing.)
Las Meninas is a truly great meta-painting, a painting about paintings. A meta–painting may represent itself, the process of its creation, its materiality, the conventions of art, the gallery where it is hung, the artwork around it, and the place of art and artist in society.
At this point I count at least 23 meta aspects. Take a look at the painting yourself and see how many you can identify: