Redefining Portraits

By Gerety, Karen Colleen; Kelne, Adam Dowd | Art Education, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Redefining Portraits


Gerety, Karen Colleen, Kelne, Adam Dowd, Art Education


Recommended for Grades 3-6.

Objective and Overview

Students will consider both tradition and innovation in portraiture and examine how modern and contemporary artists have worked in the genre. The four artists discussed in this unit expanded traditional standards in portraiture to include expressive, abstract, suggestive, and analytical representations of people. Throughout this unit, students will learn that there are different parts to people: feelings, bodies, actions, and minds. An artist might focus on one or all of these aspects, or an artist might create a portrait as he or she explores a formalistic technique. Students will discuss the definition of portraiture as they expand their understanding of the genre and create their own portraits using ideas presented here.

Introduction: Transforming the Genre of Portraiture

Since ancient times, traditional portraits appeared in both public and private contexts. Portraits of political leaders decorated coins and state sculpture, and portraits of religious leaders adorned places of worship. Wealthy patrons posed for portraits to display in their homes. In all contexts, traditional portraiture was a form of historical documentation, recording the likeness of important individuals or presenting a sense of admirable character in an idealized portrait. In general, premodern artists created portraits to honor individuals and preserve their memory. Because the sitter's identity was so important in traditional portraits, some artists found the genre to be restrictive (Carr & Miles, 2001).

The demand for painted portraits began to wane after the daguerreotype was invented in 1839. Once photography became popular, painters no longer had a monopoly on portraiture. Photography was a cheaper and more convenient way of generating a likeness of an individual. Instead of abandoning portraiture altogether, painters began to explore new ways of representing people. They experienced artistic freedom as they no longer had to paint portraits that looked just like certain individuals. Modern artists explored the genre to create meaningful combinations of human and aesthetic elements.

In the late 19th century, U.S. artists not only studied traditional portraiture-they also gleaned inspiration from European avant-garde painting. The New York City Armory Show of 1913 rallied artists to create portraiture that was more "American," or less reminiscent of European traditional styles (Carr & Miles, 2001). Some artists, including Robert Henri, chose subjects because of their personality or physical appearance instead of their social achievements. For others, such as Karl Knaths, portraiture became less of an end in itself and more of a subject through which they could experiment with technique.

In the years immediately following World War II, a unique artistic style was developed by the Abstract Expressionists of the New York area. However, with their tenant of avoiding reality in preference for abstract form and formal exploration, these artists created a philosophical void between the avantgarde and the genre of portraiture, which, by definition, depended in part on the depiction of a person (Carr & Miles, 2001). A few influential artists, including Larry Rivers, worked to bridge this gap. In the 1960s, Pop artists found ways to be modern without completely abstracting their artwork. Contemporary artists, like Chuck Close, find ways to combine abstract and representational imagery.

Even in more representational forms of modern portraiture, there is a significant difference in expression compared to that of traditional portraiture (Carr, 1987). Modern and contemporary portraits are more informal, accessible, casual, and sometimes humorous expressions of human nature. Portraits show either people's appearances, characteristics, or actions, or they are abstracted compositions that only suggest a human subject. Modern and contemporary artists paint portraits according to individualized terms. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Redefining Portraits
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.