When does a Portrait become Art?

Portrait is defined as a likeness of a person in the form of a painting, a photograph, a sculpture, an icon…or any other kind of rendering.

A question that often perplexes me is – when does a portrait become art? Or is it always art?

The answer, that I’ve been trying to find for years, possibly lies in the emotional expression of the portrait. Some portraits, meticulously drawn, sketched, painted are extremely realistic renderings of people, but they don’t do anything for the onlookers. They don’t make them feel happy or sad, light or dark, calm or angry…they don’t accomplish anything at all – except making one marvel at the skill with which they were executed.

Whistler's Mother - Why the portrait is art?

Then there are portraits ranging from quick renderings to impressionist to even realistic paintings that inspire emotions…and they make great art – because when you look at them, they ignite feelings in your heart. The feelings may vary, and what they make me feel could be vastly different from what you feel when you look at them, but they make us feel – and I think that’s what makes for great art.

Whistler’s Mother, for instance, conveys melancholy and loss to me. The grays, the blacks, the geometrical precision of the composition, and the rigidity of the pose – they all make me feel a twinge of sadness. The painting may convey something else to someone else…but convey it will – and that makes it art.

Munch’s Scream, makes me feel helplessness. Not a great emotion to feel, and for that reason, I have a feeling such paintings won’t be bought by those who feel a lot – but the painting has been made and it has made people feel – the emotional connection has been made.

I believe that for a portrait to become art, the artist must step inside it and leave a part of himself of herself behind – a kind of emotional DNA that penetrates the paint and dries on the surface of the canvas, to live inside the painting forever.



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