Friday, July 3, 2015

The Portrait Painter's Dilemma: Social Media

I have always loved painting people, and dream of having a big wall of portraits of all my most beloved friends and family, painted lovingly by me, capturing their personalities as I see them in colors to match their individual wonderful selves. 

Maybe this is a lofty goal in some ways. It is also a very problematic one.

I assume other artists surely run into this dilemma: Many times when the artist makes a portrait, the sitter flat-out doesn’t like it. They ask for it to be hidden, never shown to anyone. Or, they decline to be represented, either because they aren’t comfortable being looked at, or because of the carefully-curated mask I will elaborate on here. 

Lately I have some serious artistic self-esteem problems and thus have trouble accepting criticism in my artwork. But regardless of how I am feeling overall that’s always been a difficult thing for me—putting a lot of effort into painting not a direct photographic representation, but a personality and a mood, and having it flatly rejected.

I am not a photorealistic painter. I like to tone the canvas into a lovely gradient, sketch in paint, then paint alla prima in as few sessions as possible to try to develop a certain energy and mood in my work. Thus, “not a direct photographic representation”… and that is the crux of the problem, I believe.

We live in a world of digital photography. And individual can use his or her camera or smartphone or webcam to take multiple pictures without worrying about wasting film. You can take a hundred pictures of yourself if you want, each from a slightly different angle, choose the one you feel makes you appear most attractive in a societally-acceptable sort of way, and delete all the others.

We also live in a world of social media. We curate our entire lives to make them appealing, or even “perfect”, to individuals we may not even know—and most importantly, to ourselves. In this world we never fight with our spouse; our party turned out just the way we wanted it to; we never slip up and yell at our kids out of sheer frustration. We edit out the part of our Bahamas vacation where we got sun poisoning and lost our luggage. We are witty, brilliant, unreal individuals, always in control.

You can see how this might present a problem for the artist, who likely represents individuals according to a particular artistic style, and as he or she views them. Suddenly the sitter sees him or herself through the eyes of another person, at an unappealing angle, in an unappealing light.

Perhaps they wanted only their “good side”, which is usually very specific and might be anything from chin-slightly-turned-up to a-few-degrees-off-of-3/4. Or maybe they wanted to be painted with a specific mood—or no mood at all, just a carefully curated mask. Maybe they wanted to be tough and were shown as vulnerable. 

Thx, Cosmo and ten thousand other sites and blogs!

Another, rather unpleasant possibility of course is that I am just not that good of an artist, and they are vastly disappointed.

As such, I gave up my idea for now. I paint myself if I want to paint a figure, because really I don’t care how I look—or perhaps, sadly, I just know how to form the curated mask I have created for everyone else. I also draw and paint the myriad expressions of cats and dogs, and infuse mood into still lives. None of this is bad in the least, but I do hold onto the idea.

Life is complex and difficult. People are complex and difficult, including ourselves. I don’t understand why it’s equally difficult for us to admit it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Part Two in An Occasional Series: On Changes

Big changes are coming into my life this fall--changes not limited to getting married, believe it or not! I feel at a bit of a crossroads in my life.

Luckily not this crossroads.

After a three-year break I am about to start working on my bachelor’s degree again. The biggest problem I am facing, surprisingly enough, is figuring out what to major in.

Shockingly, not this. OK, maybe a little this.

I was a general studies major when I first started, because I had no clue what to do. Like many students I had several subjects I liked a lot, such as sociology and English, and struggled to reconcile career options, the money and time I would have to spend, and the enjoyment of the subject matter.

And how to avoid this sh*t.

When I hit upon visual communications design I felt like everything had fallen into place for me, and I became at art major. I have come to terms with the fact that in a Venn diagram of my career opportunities, “Things I Actually Enjoy/Am Skilled At” and “Things That Pay Well” do not intersect, but graphic design seemed about as close as I could get. However, I had the unfortunate experience of having a perfect storm of everything falling apart on me.

This, so much this.

Right before I quit I had decided to change to a fine arts major. I wanted to be an art professor. In fact, I still (think I) have those career aspirations. 

Oh, to spend this rest of my life saying this!

But is it viable? (Keeping in mind that none of my career options will be excessively viable.) And more importantly, can I deal with the pressure of art school and a career in art? As I get older and have to react to circumstances in a different way it seems like I’m always grappling directly with another layer of trauma, or finding a new layer to anxiety or depression or a similar issue that must be dealt with before I can deal with everyday life, and thus this is a very real concern for me now. One of the reasons I quit school, unfortunately, was lack of confidence in my own work and ability. But I don’t want to be in this situation for the rest of my life; I want to move forward. Importantly, as well, and I will say this over and over again to anyone who will listen, the more you give in to anxiety, the worse it will get.

Refer to Fig. 3.

But what do I want to do? (I have other ideas too.) And better yet, can I successfully manage to do it without having another breakdown? I can’t believe I’m 26 and still having these thoughts—and yet I can. Seriously, 50-year-olds have these thoughts. Most adults are not necessarily better at adulting than I. Until then I will at least try to avoid panic attacks and comfort myself with this: