I’ve been working on portraits (per this blog- I mean, you’ve seen it faithful readers). I think this is progress.
Portraits mean a lot to me. I think when I was younger I thought they were the best kind of painting- I liked the theme and variation very much. I remember in college one of my favorite exhibits at the Palmer, Penn State’s art museum, was the national geographic photographer Steve McCurry’s photos. I feel a little embarassed writing that- isn’t that a pretty basic opinion to have? I’m sure you’ve seen this portrait:
I think that’s one of the things that I find attractive about potraiture- there’s something offensively “basic” about them, generally. When I go to the Carnegie Museum (Because I’m older and cooler then when I was in college plus I live in Pittsburgh) I often read on the little plaques of portraits weird, awkward little apologies for the human form. In my memory/imagination it sounds like: “X artist challenged the art world’s expectations by discovering- miraculously (!!!!)- an interesting way of drawing the human form” or “X artist revitalizes the art of portraiture by smearing/obscuring/disfiguring all the recognizable parts of a face and/or body!”.
All of those little plaques beg the question- does portraiture need revitalized? I remember feeling like I was made of lightning when I saw those Steve McCurry portraits. It made me desperately want to be able to paint better. There was something challenging and incredible about his art. Part of that, I’m sure, is that they were about cultures and people I hadn’t experienced previously and they inspired a cultural fascination. The other part of that, though, is that they are composed really well. Seeing a person composed with artistic intentionality, intentionality used to bring out interesting things about that person, is fascinating whether it’s realistic, impressionistic, fauvist (ic?), or something new.
So, I’m glad I make portraits. I’m happy to innovate where I can- no hate on doing new things. I just think that there will always be a place for portraits unredeemed by the avant garde.