is portraiture? What is a portrait?
A portrait is the mental
image we assemble of a person. It is a psychological construct, and
the one we make of "ourself" we call our self-image.
Thus portraiture is independent
of medium; one could say its natural medium is the mind. The validity,
or accuracy, of a portrait becomes an issue, particularly when we
discern that a person has what we call "a poor self-image" or "low
An outsider may doubt the
inherent ability of a particular medium to be accurate for portraiture;
paint, pencil, any direct human-body-controlled medium bears this
suspicion. For some reason the camera portrait has been accorded status
as impartial and free of bias, although anyone who practices this
art knows better.
Portraiture is more than
likeness, more than family record.
Socrates: "Know thyself."
John of Salisbury: "Who
is more contemptible than he who scorns knowledge of himself?"
Lloyd: Portraiture is
linked to human issues now taking their places in our conscious self-knowledge
as a civilization. Some of these issues are: self-image, self-knowledge,
knowledge of our personal history, awareness of others, awareness
of our family members, awareness of our connection with these others,
and awareness of the histories involved.
To be able to look into
the eyes of a forebear and feel the link. Right into the eyes, and
to see them looking back at you. Photography can open a window into
a past time and place; portraiture lets us look across time and space
into our personal human connections. It has been called the "shock
of recognition" - the impact of art on the human - and a self-aware
person can experience it when seeing into an ancestral visage. Genetic
connection seems to heighten the impact.
A case in point: adopted
people. At this late date many jurisdictions are finally passing legislation
to guarantee adopted people access to records necessary to finding
their birth parents. Adoptees have demanded this basic right for generations.
All humans want to know their roots. The impact of a portrait of one's
never-known parent is incalculable. The importance of what I call
a "real" portrait, one showing the genuine person, is obvious.
Baby pictures are another
good example. Too frequently they are not portraits at all, but assembly
line products to sell the unsuspecting birth-shocked parents. A real
portrait of a baby or child would be a life-long resource and treasure.
Look into your own eleven month old eyes, your seven year old eyes,
your teen-age eyes - what do you see? What a gift for your parents
to give you, and so easy. Just go to a portraitist once in a while!
The value is impossible to overstate.
Firemen know an interesting
fact: what do people save from their burning homes after the children
and the pets? The family picture album. The value of pictures, and,
I submit, especially of portraits of our closest humans, is clear
and well known.
not only what we need to know about ourselves and our connections,
it tells us about some of our most important activities, such as friendship.
Examine the portrait "Nadia is Dying." Friends of six decades, one
ferociously holding the other while she lives at peace in the moment.
As for family history,
it's more than just a record of forebears' faces. Look at "She's Leaving
Home." A severe test of any parent. To be able to look at our parents
- and ourselves - later, when we are capable of understanding - that
must be valuable.
I've saved self-image
for last. I used to think it was of primary importance, but it is
only part of what goes into and comes out of portraiture. Seeing ourselves
as we really are, making eye contact with a "real" portrait, is an
antidote to the constant spew of propaganda our so-called society
directs at us.
From soft drink advertising
to anorexic teenagers, self-image is an object of manipulation covered
in lies. If ever the shock of recognition occurs, it does when we
see our own real portrait.