Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Remember that first stick figure you drew way back when the earth was still warm?

The body was all lines, with no substance and no shading and the head was just a circle with more lines in it, but the eyes where big and detailed and they had all of the correct equipment even if it was slight out of proportion.

That was the first time you made a portrait.

And don’t think you were alone, artists have been doing it since that first hairy cave person smeared chalk on the wall. (Okay it probably was a guy type person, but in the spirit of equal representation, I’ll make it person so no one gets left out.)

The one universal truth in art is no one poses longer, more willingly and cheaper than the artist himself.

Why years ago when the world was ruled by the Church and it was worth your hide if you went against its teachings it was hard to find someone who would take all of their clothes off so that an artist could paint them. Then there was the issue of no central heat until two thousand year later and if you don’t think posing in the buff in an artist’s digs was an act of bravery you haven’t tried streaking in many, many years.

Sure later in the development of art the crafty artists discovered that there were commercial ladies who would gladly pose without clothes because it was safer, less effort and nicer than the usual method they used to pay the rent and besides artists were so obsessed with the painting part they almost never asked for part of the labor in trade. Sure two thousand years later guys like Paul Gauguin did a half and half but that could wait for a bit of time to roll by.

Now there were others who would do the work, athletes, they competed in the raw anyway and it was a lot warmer inside a sculptor’s studio than on the playing fields of Olympia so why not take a guys money and do the thing in a nice warm covered studio?

Have you noticed that not a lot has changed? The same professionals do the work these days they just get better pay. If you work the traditional trade but stay off the street you can claim to be a socialite and if you keep any evidence that you have more brains than a sea slug you can make a whole bunch of money, pose for the best artists of the day and maybe if you are lucky get a reality show on a cable channel.

The same is true for the folks doing the ball tossing, they really get better pay and they get big endorsement deals and they get celebrity girlfriends who are working the same side of the street and they do talk shows and cereal boxes and trading cards and they at least once a year do a big-time nekkid pose-off for the Skin issue of Sports Irritating.

(Did you see Captain America’s photographs in the Skin issue? Everyone knows Abby Wambach is the Terminator on the soccer pitch and she has just been selected as the FIFA Player of the Year for 2012 but in the Skin issue she makes being the baddest bomber on the pitch look like a glamorous babe’s dream job and if Mike the Angelo was still doing work he’d want to book her for one of his chisel jobs cause that girl has architecture which would make the David envious.)

So there you have it the three groups the artist can call on for a model who won’t answer a call in the middle of a session are athletes, Human-interaction specialists and artists. And the one the artists can most often afford is…now let’s not see the same hands every time…the artist.

But for an artist working with his favorite model, read cheapest, the geography of seeing the subject becomes challenging. How do you keep one eye on the canvas and one on that mirror and still have enough room to work?

You shorten the subject and that is a blessing artists being a lot more concerned with getting their vision down than they are with fashion and hygiene, it’s for the best. A self-portrait can be managed peeking around the easel and still doing a great job with the materials at hand.

And they’ve all done it. That is why we know so much about the great artists of the past, they painted themselves. And they did themselves no favors, Vinnie the Go and Rembrandt were honest to a fault, Picasso, well when he did paint in his early periods before Cubism and Modernism took hold made images we can understand and when he didn’t we sort of get a look into his soul.

So we’ve all done it, made portraits and we keep on doing it cause no one else will let us do it to them as often as we want to do it and if we didn’t do it to ourselves we wouldn’t have anyone to do it to at all and then we’d have to go and be brick layers and there is nothing at all wrong with being a brick layer except is you are an artists laying bricks is just not as exciting and challenging as you would want and so we all come back to doing portraits, the self absorbed kind.

So the next time you stop in front of a mirror and you do do it you know you do, instead of admiring the image of a noble Bohemian visionary, think about what you’d like to do with that image and see if you can resist the urge to rush home and drag out your paints.

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