Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Please, Art Gods! (help me to) Tidy Up My Point of View






Oh, the commissioned portrait. I am glad for the work - I need to earn more of an income than my teaching brings in. (New York artist Tilly Strauss writes about art and money here. It's an important topic! And it's almost taboo, isn't it??) But...(yes, here comes The Big But...)...it is not the same as a portrait done with no expectations from the model. Even when there are no expectations from the model, a portrait brings challenges that are absent from other genres. It's THE HUMAN FACE! We all have one, and we all know when it looks skewed. I was just discussing this yesterday with a student in my Mixed Media Portraiture class. He is a landscape painter and this class is his first experience with portraiture. I challenged him to approach the portrait the same way that he approaches landscape. But, but... he protested. Yes, there's always that Big But when it comes to the human face. (Did I just write that??)

But what? I ask him (and myself...)

But, I want it to look like the person!

But, I want it to look like a person!

But, what if I'm honest and draw what I really see? I don't want to offend!

But, what if they don't like it?

But, what if I feel so bound to the sitter's expectations that I can't draw at all?

But what if they love it and I hate it?

Agh.
Art for money. Do the rules change? Do I wear a different hat? What am I complaining about? That I don't have total control? Is that it? Is it a control issue? Why not see it as an opportunity to collaborate? Here sits this beautiful expectant woman (not the pregnant with baby sort of expectant, but the pregnant with ideas and hopes that I will make a portrait that will please her sort of expectant...)...a friend of mine for many years, who wants to give this portrait to her husband for his birthday (which is coming right up, and speaking of but(t)s I really need to get mine in gear and finish this...) and she wants it to be a happy portrait. And she wants to look blonder than she looks now, in the dead of winter. These seem like simple enough requests. The happy thing, though. Not so simple. When people sit for a portrait they may start off smiling, but soon they can't hold the smile any longer, and they start to talk. It's like a therapy session. They talk about happy things, and they talk about sad things. And guess what. The face changes. Alot. And if this were not a commissioned portrait, I would be drawing those changes, and the portrait may start to look a bit sad, or pensive...
I've often had people tell me that my portraits look intense, or sad...
So what to do. (I have to tell you that with scarce few exceptions, I intensely dislike portraits that are drawn straight from smiling photographs. BORING! What's the point?)

But.
After drawing for an hour or so, I took a bunch of photos of my friend smiling, in between her telling me about some profoundly sad things that are happening in her life, because she wants this to be a happy portrait. And I have the challenge now of feeling confident that I can keep this portrait alive and interesting as I work from photos to resolve it. My friend lives on a bay, and the imagery in the silkscreen on the wall behind her resonates with her, so I will work more with that. I will also add some day lilies - her favorite flower. She has incredible gardens...

I just need a shift in attitude. No problem, right? Just something to help me to shake my Big But...

13 comments:

Susan Beauchemin said...

I could use a new attitude too. BUT, the commissioned portrait! That is a whole other story. I'm no art god, BUT if I was, this is what I'd say: (with booming voice), You know what inspires you, and without that inspiration or if demands on a painting cut that inspiration down to the quick, I think it RIGHT and JUST to ask your sitter not to interrupt your process with requests about bigger boobs, whiter teeth and could you flatten my ears back? This should be said before a mark is put on the page--maybe within your publicity blurbs or ads or posters or however you advertise. Let it be known that you will do what you do, because that's how you do it! Most likely they will love the outcome and if they don't, so be it--they don't have to buy the portrait. I think it most important that YOU love the portrait--that you love doing it--can't wait to get back to it. As far as money, I think that if you are true to yourself--follow your inspiration to where ever it takes you without the thought of money, then the money will come naturally--that sounds very idealistic and easy for me to say, but also hard for me to do, Whoops, I reverted back to little ol me, ahemm! "THE ART GOD HAS SPOKEN!"

jenjoaquin said...

I have only done one commissioned portrait and it was one of the scariest things I've done. 2 things I did for my own peace of mind were to tell the buyer (who had commissioned a portrait as a birthday present for his wife) to make sure he had a back-up present *just in case* and to also make sure he understood that I was going to paint the way I paint and that if he was unhappy with the final product there was no obligation to buy. A risky thing to do, but it made me feel so much freer in painting a piece that I was happy with first and if the buyer liked it too then great, if not I still ended up with a painting I liked.

Lastly- your portraits are amazing, inspired and inspiring, I don't think you have anything to worry about :)

KaHolly said...

Martha, Just do your thing! It'll be GREAT, just like you! ~karen

Brad Gailey said...

You know what the thing is with portraits, that the likeness can be so good and the work look so dead and then the likeness can be mediocre, if you are being kind, and the work so alive. Must be the extra stuff you bring to the work.

Brad

Deborah Ross said...

I hear you! I've mostly done portraits over the years and I know exactly how you feel. When money enters the picture it changes things, even if it's a friend. And I would rather use my own photos than a live sitting, just for the reasons you stated.
I think you have a great likeness there already.It will be great! All of your portraits are so vibrant.

artslice said...

Ooh, it's true... these are legitimate concerns. Especially the 'don't want to offend' part. But, whoever has commissioned you... it's because they've seen your work and like it!

I agree with KaHolly :)

Martha Miller said...

Oh, THANKYOU ALL for commenting! I appreciate your support, it helps me to move forward with this!!! xoxox

Showing up for the Muse said...

You can do this! what a lucky woman. She and her husband will own a treasure. Just let it flow.

maggie said...

thanks for the frank monologue about the difficulties of commissioned work...esp portraits. just to keep my sense of humor, whenever i ask my husband's opinion about a portrait i am working on, he follows his objective critique with '...and it makes my butt look too big.' thank god for the lightheartedness in our lives.

Dean Grey said...

Martha!

You don't need any help from the Art Gods. You could pull this portrait off with one hand tied behind your back!

Interesting questions too.

I think it's a combination of everything you mentioned. Wanting the portrait to look like the person, to meet your/their expectations, getting paid for the commission, etc..

It's all about finding a happy medium between all of those things I guess.

The portrait looks good so far!

-Dean

Martha Miller said...

thanks, tilly! your vote of confidence helps ALOT!

Martha Miller said...

ha ha! thanks, maggie! it does make my butt look too big!

Martha Miller said...

Dean!

(I love how you always use that !)

Thankyou, sweetie. Means alot to hear that!