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It is very easy to get into an argument over what is the best way to execute a portrait. Painters will insist that the true portrait was lessened when the camera was invented. Photographers will say that the camera can do things that the paints and brushes cannot. The paint & paintbrush, the camera, photoshop, your cell phone, pastels, graphite…the list goes on and on…and any one of them can do either a splendid or terrible job on a portrait. The big difference is not the equipment. It is the people doing the job. Us.
There is a magical element to portrait making. It is an elusive something else that the maker puts into the portrait which makes it the essence of the subject. This is not going to be the ability to draw the best. Nor will it be having the best camera equipment. Those help but they do not enable one to see. One must be able to observe the subject and grab on to the subject’s essence when it materializes. This may happen the first day or the second month. There is no telling. Then the portrait maker must practice alchemy: get what materialized into the picture.
Robert Mapplethorpe named his final show THE PERFECT MOMENT. There is a perfect moment of creating art. We create the opportunity for it to appear. When we see that perfect moment finally appear, we have to capture it. If we cannot, we are not cut out for creating portraits.
The artist does not need to be great with people although it helps. Edward Hopper in general disliked most people. But he did great paintings of people. Lucian Freud could be a completely impossible person. Yet he was a great portrait painter. The only way one can find out if he or she can do portraits is to just jump in and start doing them and see what happens.
Why No Grins?
The most you will see in art portraits as far as the mouth is the slightest of smiles. Even that appears very infrequently. The big smiles, or grins flashing the teeth that are used in almost all popular photographs, are missing. Why?
That look, the smile when I say cheese look, was invented for the advertising world, not the fine art world. It was to show how happy the consumer was with a specific product. Fine Art portraits convey a lasting look at a person instead, usually in a certain mood.
There are also aspects of the grin or wide smile which work against a good photograph. These are:
people tend to look the same with that pose
putting the mouth into that position makes the eyes smaller & harder to see
expression and mood are conveyed more by the eyes than the mouth
putting the mouth into that position lengthens the nose
EXCERPT 3:The Camera
The camera did not ruin portraiture. It expanded the concept of portraiture and enlarged the scope of artists who would be able to do them. You do not need to paint and draw to take a photograph. However, early photography was a complex process of a different sort: highly technical and chemical.
Later photography has made the taking of the picture simpler due to technology advances but artists now mix the field of photography with the field of computers. They use both to produce their finished work.
Comparing photography and computers with painting and drawing is a hopeless enterprise. They are as different as can be; the proverbial apple versus the orange.
To further complicate the matter, there are some artists whose finished piece combines painting, drawing, photography and computers. In sum, the field is wide open as to the actual materials the artist chooses to use in creating portraits.