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Thursday, 4 April 2013

Foot in Mouth Disease

I've done it again.  Made a comment on a poor, defenceless artist's work on Painters Online, said more than I should have done, caused offence.  Mind you, it's the easiest thing in the world to offend some artists - I tend to make the mistake of forgetting just how thin-skinned most of us actually are, having not so much confidence in our abilities as we like to pretend.

This time, there was a double-edge to it; it was a portrait of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Somewhere or other I can never remember (because, of course, I don't care - and there lies part of the trouble).

I didn't actually say why on earth are you painting a portrait - from a photograph - of Ms Middleton, when a professional portraitist who had her actually sit for him made, by most accounts, something of a ghastly mess of it.  But looking back on what I did say, I think I probably hinted at it pretty heavily - with my usual tact.  I.e., none to speak of.

Poor Defenceless Artist noticed this innuendo, anyway, and told me how caring and compassionate Ms M is, just like Princess Di .... well.  If you say so.  She also says that Ms M is "beautiful".  And again - it's in the eye of the beholder - although: let's be honest .... she isn't.  She's just young; reasonably attractive; has no personality that has as yet come across to anyone outside her immediate circle - and why should one expect it to have done so at this stage? - and presents any portraitist with a big problem: her personality is not yet written in her face; and she seems to have a beezer of quite impressive proportions, anchored in something of an expanse of pale flesh.

Or so you would believe from the official portrait - I've heard of those in which the eyes follow you round the room; rarely seen one in which the nose does the same ....

I've not seen the official portrait in the flesh, and the news photographs of it, both physically in the actual newspapers and online, have varied so much in tone and clarity that I hesitate to agree or disagree with the consensus that has unfortunately formed around it.  And anyway, I'm no authority on portraits.  But I do know that anyone who tries to paint a portrait from a photograph alone is on to a sure-fire loser: it CAN be done - if you have a really superb, and preferably monochrome, photograph (such as might be taken by my friend Barry Fitzgerald, professional photographer based in Tralee) but the result, in anyone other than a very good professional's hands - better than most of us by a league or two - is very likely to be stonkingly poor.   That's because you can't see things, features, move - you can't see how they work together; this is particularly so around the mouth, especially when you're trying to capture a smile; you can see the set of the head in the photograph - but not in reality.

So Poor Defenceless Artist was right, really: I was taking out on her, a bit, the facts that a) I haven't a lot of time for the syrupy sentiment poured over the royal family, and lack respect for the majority of them; b) I don't want to see any more portraits of Ms Middleton or any other fairytale princess de nos jours; c) I think amateur portraits from photographs look so ghastly on the whole that they're an embarrassment on a website, despite the skill the individual artist may possess - and I suppose, digging deeper into my motivation than even Sigmund Freud would have done, I'm basically saying I don't like this, don't want it here, don't do it.

Which of course I have absolutely no right to do.  Although I still hate it when people dabble in celebrity portraits and try to impose their own hero-worship on their subjects: because it always means the art is compromised at best, and just downright bad at worst.

It just might be better, though, if I learned to bite my tongue and get on with my own work rather than either condemning someone else's or damning it with faint praise.  Wonder if I ever will......


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