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11th May 2010

What Are the Two Types of Portraits?

There are two basic kinds of portraits, whether the artist creates a hand drawn or painted work, a sculpture or a photo. When a portrait combines both types of portraiture we recognize it as great art.

When commissioning a portrait it helps to recognize both kinds of portraiture. Simply the ability to capture a likeness of an individual well does not make a portrait more than a memento or vanity piece.

Standard Portraits

One exists to portray the subject in a way that adds to his or her public reputation. This portraiture depicts the greatness of the subject in their physical beauty, wealth, societal position or achievement. Examples of this date back far in time to ancient civilizations’ that portray the heroic feats of their ruler or gods in human form.

This type of portraiture is found on money, and stamps. It hangs in board rooms and stately mansions. Statues of heroes on horseback, busts of emperors and many statues found in churches depict the triumphs or heroic suffering of the subject. Today, this kind of portraiture is bread and butter of the family friendly photographers who photograph weddings and children.

Abstracted Portraits

The other type of portraiture reveals the humanity of the subject, the emotions and frailty that make us human.

Portraits that are more abstracted usually fall into this category when the subjects are not photo-manipulated, as in Pop Art, which tends to be a standard protrait of how the media or society sees the subject. Examples of abstracted portraits include Picasso’s cubist and abstracted portraits, Calder’s wire portraits, portrait paintings by van Gogh, Rouault, Francis Bacon. and in contemporary art, George Condo.

Enter the Artist

Exodus 20 -Ten Commandments (Abraham Lincoln), Stars and Stripes

Every artist brings a bit of him or herself into the work. Great artists do more that depict a subject accurately they offer insight into how they see the subject and reality. Although this can be considered an artist’s style, it goes beyond that and is revelatory. This is why those who try to copy or paint in the style of a great portrait painter, seem good but some how lacking.

The unique view of the portrait artist can be also recognized by the snapshots taken by the people who love us. These “Kodak Moments” may lack in design or focus, but often capture what is special or unique about their subjects in ways professional mall photographers miss. That professional mall photographer works to capture images that flatter.

When commissioning a portrait find an artist who can capture and reveal more than an excellent likeness of their subjects.

Great Portrait Art

When an artist captures both the greatness of the soul plus the human frailty and vulnerability of the portrait subject we easily recognize it as great art. The humanity of the subject allows us to empathetically relate while the beauty, heroic achievement or emotion inspires us.

From the Renaissance to modern art, we find examples of this when artists paint common people or use their models to portray mythical figures. In religious Christian art, suffering and martyrdom was considered to be heroic, holy and great.

Rembrandt encountered difficulties with some of his commissions as his subjects objected to how he revealed their humanity, although they were depicted in their finery and in heroic action. The Night Watch is a prime example of this.

Artists’ self portraits often bravely reveal the artists’ emotions and vulnerability, portraying both the humanness and divine within the subject.

Psalm 22 (Rembrandt)

By Judy Rey Wasserman

The most famous painting in the world is the Mona Lisa. La Giaconda’s serene composure combined with a hint of her secret smile continues to beguile us as Da Vinci masterfully portrays the duality of her human and divine essence.  By capturing that mysterious and elusive duality Da Vinci made his subject famous and immortal throughout history.

Interested in commissioning an Essence Portrait of yourself or a loved one? Send an email to: portrait@ungravenimage.com If possible include a brief description of the person to be considered for the portrait, sex, age, interests, job, etc — but keep it very brief at this point. If you live in the USA or Canada please include your phone number for a free initial, no obligation consultation about your portrait.

Watch the video below to discover the new Post Conceptual portraiture of the 21st Century


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Judy Rey Wasserman is an artist and the founder of Post Conceptual Art theory and also the branch known as UnGraven Image Art. Download a free copy click: Manifesto of Post Conceptual Art– A Painting’s Meaning is Inherent in its Stroke.
Check out the limited and open edition prints in the estore.
Follow her on Twitter at @judyrey .]

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