How Have Contemporary Artists Subverted The Genre Of Portraiture?

Posted on November 9, 2023 by Cheapest Assignment

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The invariable fantasies of the human mind could only be realized on the canvas with colors and sketches. The unwavering thoughts and perceptions in our minds have led human civilization to craft artistic pieces in the form of literature and art. Even though there could be no specific classification of art based on the period, it is inevitable to consider the disparities between the practices of artists in the past and contemporary scenarios.

The genre of portraiture has been subject to drastic modifications in approaches followed by artists in modern times owing to the prevalence of other forms of art such as photography. The applications of portraits have accomplished substantial accolades from critics as well as connoisseurs alike albeit with increasing concerns for transitioning to aesthetically superior forms of visual fine arts such as portrait photography (West,2004).

A critical examination of practices adopted by contemporary artists could be an explicit contributor to the determination of the impact rendered by these practices on the genre of portraiture. One of the profound indications that could be drawn from contemporary artists and their works is the introduction of revolutionary practices such as the utilization of videos and items for making portraits (McCann, 2014).

The inclusion of such initiatives is accountable for the subversion of the classic norms of portrait design. It is also a promising indicator of the increasing accessibility of portraits to admirers and enthusiasts. Illustration of the practices followed in the contemporary genre of portraiture along with the contextual, critical, and theoretical assessment of the same could be reflective of the profound changes in the approaches followed by portrait artists.

The following essay is directed toward determining the explicit differences between the approaches followed by contemporary portrait artists and the old artists that can provide distinct insights into the subversion of the conventional genres of portraiture (Korte, 2013).

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Portraits from a historical perspective:

The development of profound interest in the domain of portraiture in recent times can be observed in the transition of portrait collectors, critics, and enthusiasts towards improved tastes in the selection and appreciation of portraits. The complexity of the evolution noticed in practices and concerns of contemporary artists could also be noted as a profound entity in the history of portraiture (West, 2004).

As per Heymer, the profound changes in the genre of portraiture in fine arts could not only be associated with modifications in the practices implemented by artists for crafting portraits but also in diverse aspects. Some of the notable changes that could be perceived in the genre of contemporary portraiture refer to the improved flexibility for utilization of various media sources, limited restrictions on the variants and application of materials for sculptures, and transition from the primacy noticed in the picture plane (Heymer, 2016).

According to McCann, the historical perspective for portraiture is directed towards the formidable references to the use of the human body as a reference for crafting portraits and the impact of the muse’s appearance as well as the social and sexual inclination of the artist towards the sitter. Before proceeding with the discussion on the subversion of conventional paradigms of portraiture by the practices of contemporary artists, it is essential to consider the development of contemporary art (McCann, 2014).

One prolific concern that can be drawn in the context of modern art is directed towards the observation of slower and gradual changes rather than considering any drastic reforms in art forms. It is imperative to state that modern art could not be subjected to judgment according to situations of time since the portraits that can be considered examples of modern art would not be termed the same in the future (Ofili, 2010). Since the period of the Renaissance, modern art has acquired substantial credit among admirers of art and the sustained reputation of such works of art can be validated in their popularity in present times (Korte,2013).

Illuminations said that portraits made by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci have been admired a lot by art critics and have placed clear demarcations between modernist and post-modernist approaches to art. Portraits were primarily associated with the inherent application of displaying the skills of the artist by expressing the emotions depicted by the muses or based on any emotion shared by the artist and sitter (Illuminations, 2005).

The comprehensive review of practices for crafting portraits suggests that exploring the human body allows cognizable opportunities for understanding the varying forms of expression depicted by individual parts of the human body (Dyer, Alan, Alison, 2005). Portraits served as profound contributors to the use of the human body as a platform for paintings, drawings, and sculptures and the varying interpretations of individual artists can be considered viable inputs for determining the change in the genre of portraiture (McCann, 2014).

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Joseph Stella and contemporary portraiture:

The example of American-Italian artist Joseph Stella and his works can be considered a profound indicator of contemporary portrait practices that have been adopted by modern portrait artists (O’Reilly, 2009).

As per Shainman, the present domain of mixed fine arts is indicative of the prominence of photography that is attractive since portraits were in vogue due to the requirement of people for self-representation (Shainman, 2016). However, it can be noticed that the practices of contemporary artists involve the use of media such as photography and videos that have reformed the way portraits were made.

The works of Joseph Stella were characterized by references to futurism and symbolic narratives and communication of personal messages through the utilization of discarded objects (Korte, 2013). The collages presented by Joseph could be invariably considered prolific expressions of inherent personal sensibilities. The distinct elements that were used in the collages of Joseph included paper debris and wrappers that have been subjected to wear and tear which were characterized by minimal composition.

As per McCann, the attempts the define space and form according to conventional standards of portrait design in the cubic approach of design were reformed by Joseph (McCann, 2014). He introduced profound reforms in the conventional approaches to portrait design that were reflected in the attempts made by Joseph to emphasize the fundamental exterior appearance of the objects utilized in the portraits (Lehrer, 2016).

The promising outcome that can be derived from such an approach followed by the artist refers to the integration of aesthetic impact rendered by the objects and the dynamics of placement of the objects used in the portrait. Stella’s innovative practices for portraiture are indicative of promising outcomes such as the depiction of the intrinsic beauty of the objects implemented in the portrait that can showcase the elements of dehumanization and rejection (Adam Lehrer, 2011).

With a primary rationale behind his works, Joseph Stella was able to leverage the aesthetic capabilities of discarded objects to communicate the impact of the mechanized age on human society. As per Heymer, the use of innovative practices for fabricating portraits signifies that conventional genres of portraiture can be challenged by the approaches of contemporary portrait artists (Heymer, 2016).

The increasing variability in the designs of portrait exhibitions indicates the changing principles of portrait design. The proliferation of contemporary genres of portraiture can also be associated with the existence of conventional approaches that were implemented in the past (Adam Lehrer, 2011). The different examples of recent works of portrait artists refer to the wide assortment of stylistic modes followed by different artists alongside an impinging emphasis on the types of portrait designs that were familiar in the past.

The conventional approaches for the fabrication of portraits such as formats of head, half-length, bust, full figure, and three-quarter were also complemented with the new forms of expressive interpretation, imaginary portraits, and integration of symbolism in the portraits. The observation of prominent examples of modern portrait artists suggests reasonable insights into the rationale for subversion of the traditional genres of portraiture. The use of digital media and technology such as hardware and software, discarded office supplies, spray paint portraits and abstract entities such as road maps can be observed as profound inclusions in the existing genres of portraiture (Heymer, 2016).

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According to Shainman, a reflection on the potential of innovative practices by modern portrait artists could validate certain ambiguities that are associated with the subversion of conventional genre followed in portraits such as the use of painting and limitations to capturing images of self or humans only (Shainman, 2016). Gradually developments in the domain of portrait design included a transition towards capturing abstract entities such as emotions thereby leading to drastic modifications in the perceptions of portraits by admirers, connoisseurs, and enthusiasts. The reflection on the works of modern portrait artists reflects on innovative practices that require intrinsic levels of development in creativity to depict a message flexibly.

It would be imperative to observe that the use of mixed media by the artists presently in the domain of portraiture could also be considered an improvement over the underlying principle for self-portraits. Self-portraits can be viably associated with profound possibilities for obtaining outcomes of expressive identification and revelation. The use of self-portrait techniques has been incorporated in the contemporary genres of portraiture by technological support (Adam Lehrer, 2011).

The innumerable benefits that can be acquired from the application of photography in portrait design refer to diverse avenues of creativity that can be realized through examples such as the integration of different styles such as painting, print, and photography. The photographs facilitate a real-time image of the specific object under concern thereby leading to opportunities for exploring a wide assortment of provocative possibilities. Examples of portrait designs with the use of photo silkscreens that were drawn as stencils on a canvas referred to the effective use of mixed media.

However, observation of the practices of Joseph Stella, as well as the impact of the practices, followed by these artists on the future evolution of the genre of portraiture. , the profound implications that can be drawn in favor of the works of Stella were the communication of a generic message with the creative use of available resources (Shainman, 2016). Literature review about the innovative practices of contemporary portrait artists such as Joseph Stella is primarily indicative of the historical evolution of portraits, the use of the human body in portraits, paintings, and sculptures, critiques over the design of the portraits, expression of human emotions through changes in the perception of the portrait’s meaning and relating psychology of self with that of the muse in the portrait.

The impact of portrait design styles followed by contemporary artists could be observed in the prospects of artistic exploration and the exploration of self for the development of personal attitudes towards portraiture thereby leading to individual visual styles of each artist. Artists in present times have developed a cognizable affinity towards innovative resources such as discarded objects, shreds of paper, or cutouts from road maps which validate a cognizable revolution in the domain of portraits (O’Reilly, 2009). The development of novel aesthetic sensibilities can be considered as the formidable outcome of the contemporary genres of portraiture which leads to the improvement of the cognitive capabilities of artists to identify the resources that could be used for expressing the creative opinions of the artist rather than fulfilling the basic requirements for a portrait.

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The intrinsic facets that were associated with the design of new portraits reflected the conversion of the creativity of artists into tangible forms through the use of the most unlikely of resources. The portraits that were formed as a collage of discarded items were also indicative of inherent aspects of perseverance and durability as well as beauty, purpose, and hope (Dyer, Alan, Alison, 2005). The use of discarded and found objects for the design of portraits is considered a profound indication of the aesthetic ideology of many modern portrait artists. Furthermore, the initiatives of contemporary portrait artists are also directed towards the enhancement of visual vocabulary, integration of diverse media types and techniques as well as collected items which suggest the development of a highly objective approach in the work of modern portrait artists.

The ideas that are communicated with the utilization of modern resources for art could not be validated on the grounds of ethereal thoughts but on the grounds of establishing a tangible entity for the viewers. The explicit outcomes that can be derived from the modern genres of portraiture indicate promising references to the increasing significance of the creative opinion of the artist (Korte, 2013). The design of self-portraits in the domain of contemporary photography can be evaluated as a primary form of communication with a sole audience. The production-like quality observed in self-portraiture could be observed as film stills and therefore selection of a final image that could be presented as the final work.

The perception of the image by the audience is guided by the visual indicators and the subjective nature of imagination which is further useful for describing the narrative associated with the portrait. The observation of instances of photographic self-portraits as far back as 1839 could be considered an indication of the conventional nature of photography and its implications for contemporary portraiture. Documentation is a profound aspect that should be noticed in the case of portraiture as well as other art forms such as paintings and sculptures. Photography is characterized by the distinct competencies of projecting reality effectively with accurate precision.

The realistic nature of the photograph can be leveraged to obtain plausible inferences of fiction within the photograph. The popularity acquired by artists engaging in self-portraiture could be attributed to the inability of individuals to address their roles in art and life as well. Self-portrait allows an individual artist to express their repressed desires, intellectual interests, past selves, and fantasies of alternate identities (Illuminations, 2005). The philosophies of control over a creative world where artists have comprehensive privileges for modifying reality according to their desires can be considered as noticeable influences on the genres of modern portraiture. The use of masquerading as a novel approach for designing portraits can be easily considered as the expansion of the scope of principles for portrait design thereby allowing recognition of the works of various portrait artists utilizing mixed media.

Principles of portraiture have been changing perspectives over time. Even though traditional styles have become considerably dormant in existing genres of portraiture, contemporary artists prefer to utilize the styles of the past. The reflective studies on the representation of various parts of the human body in a portrait also indicate the existence of formal influences on the contemporary genres of portraiture (Shainman, 2016). Social and sexual psychology associated with the interpretation of a portrait could be considered formidable elements that could be observed in the context of modern portraiture designs which rely on the integration of intangible entities in portraits. Dyer, Alan said that the concerns that were drawn from the introduction of new materials for designing portraits led to a proliferation of debates on the nature of portraits, sculptures, and paintings when designed using other materials (Dyer, Alan, Alison, 2005). The installation of various paintings with the appropriate use of entities related to cultural sentiment, color selection, lighting variation, and the size of the paintings.  The reliability of certain artists in portrait design can be validated in the context of the specific emotions evoked by the paintings in the audience as well as in the painting.

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The use of charcoal as a viable resource depicts the emotions of an individual either from the perspective of sorrow or anger alongside representing the complete being of the psyche of an individual. Various literature sources are reflective of the use of the human body as a channel for expressing desire, especially through paintings, performance art, drawings, and photography (Adam Lehrer, 2011). It is imperative to observe that the human body is capable of serving the objectives of communication despite the varying levels of exposure of the body. Literature also presents noticeable implications towards the use of the pen as a significant tool in the professional work of portrait artists alongside comprehensive reliance on expressing self-portraits.

The impact of social identity on the type of art depicted by contemporary portrait artists is also another prominent concern that could be observed concerning the changing genres of contemporary portraiture. As per Woodall & Portraiture, the reduction of barriers to social identity and stigma leads to an exploration of plausible opportunities for artists to convey radical messages through their portraits. It is interesting to note that the development of modern genres in portraiture reflects on the significance of the history of portraiture in opening the doors to novel dimensions of portraiture (Woodall & Portraiture, 1997). The illustration of social identity through the costumes adorned by the muses in the portraits reflects the prominence of full-body paintings alongside portraits depicting emphasis on a particular body part. The emphasis on a single body part is assumed as a viable input for the audience to perceive wider opportunities for analyzing the image.

Discussions in the literature about the proficiency of modern genres of portraiture reflect on the profound entity of inter-subjective space noticed in the portrait image. The depiction of people with highly intimate and capable relationships identified in the image that could be subject to change was also identified as a notable reform in the paradigms associated with portraiture. Other theories that could be profoundly associated with the subversion of genres in portraiture include psychological insight which implies the psychological viewpoint from which the individual understands the world (Korte, 2013). The perceptions of portraits have been changing gradually over time thereby leading to prominent references to the theory of self which suggests the superiority of an individual’s preferences rather than the social role contributed by the artist in the portrait.

Therefore the concerns for psychological insight into the perception of the meaning of the portraits and apprehending the drastic changes in the judgement criteria of the audience have been noticed as formidable contributors to the improvement of existing approaches to portraitures. Reflection on the impact that is evident from the perspective of changing times and criteria for defining contemporary art could also direct toward other potential changes in the approaches of portrait artists.

Therefore, a comprehensive illustration of literature that defines the activities of an individual artist in portraiture, as well as the rationale for the integration of contemporary aspects in the genre of portraiture, can facilitate cognizable information about the factors leading to changes (McCann, 2014). The changes can also be considered to be sustainable alongside presenting viable implications for the long-term application of these entities in the design of portraits. The transformation of conventional portrait philosophies and approaches facilitates reasonable implications towards the necessity of innovation to ensure that art thrives.

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The literature review explained the practices followed by modern portrait artist, Joseph Stella, which were directed towards the use of rejected materials to fabricate collages. The major outcomes that could be derived from the review were indicative of the impact that social identity, training, and development as well as creative abilities could have on the performance of contemporary forms of portraiture.


West, Shearer, Portraiture, New York, Oxford University Press, 2004

Researching the history of portraiture, this book details the way portraiture has evolved in the past from paintings of royal families to personal friends and relatives. Plus it discusses how it’s grown from detailed designs and portraits, as a means to express the artist’s skill in the practice, to having them express their representation of the sitter through either the emotions they evoked or any affection they had towards them.

McCann, Margaret, The Figure, New York, Skire Rizzoli, 2014

Through exploring the human body in art and how it’s been expressed in terms of means of freedom or power, The Figure engages the viewer in learning more about how our bodies can be used in drawing, sculpture, and painting and how each artist interprets this. It also questions what each part of the body conveys in the art from the chest puffed being a sign of strength or power to the head being the canvas of the person’s emotions, personality, and thoughts.

Korte, Mona, Inventing Faces, Berlin,  DeutscherKunstverlag, 2013

This book questions the principles of portraiture and allows an in-depth look at how it’s being implemented today. Some of the questions vary from why most portraits are mid-shot, what certain gestures imply, why certain artists chose to draw the full body of the person instead of the face, or how contemporary artists of today utilize the styles of the past today.

Woodall, Joanna, Portraiture: Facing the subject, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1997

Exploring the one’s self from sexual and social, Facing the subject delves into the psychology of why most artists chose their sitter, why some view a portrait of themselves as a capsule to stop time, and why most artists like Apelles, fell in love with the sitter, Alexander the Great’s concubine, Campaspe.

Ofili, Chris, Chris Ofili, London, Tate Publishing, 2010

Known for his creative use of elephant dung in his paintings and portraits, Chris Ofili’s book shows the journey to why the use of it and why this act of this material can dismantle the norms of expectation, and open a conversation about what a painting, portrait, or sculpture could be a different material.

Illuminations, Chris Ofili, London, England: Illuminations, 2005

An installation full of his paintings depicting lovers in an Eden-like garden full of color and light, Ofili talks about the process he took to make the pieces from the inspiration from his culture, the color selections, and the size of the paintings.

Dyer, Alan, Alison Lambert: Emotion and Expression, Coventry, Canal Basin Trust, 2005

Utilizing charcoal, Alison Lambert searches for human presence in her work by detailing the expressions of her subjects with immense detail to the point they evoke emotions not only in the pieces but in the viewers as well. She goes on to talk about why she focuses more on the emotions of the person as she states they embody the full being of the person’s mind which is therefore expressed through either tears or anger.

O’Reilly, Sally, The body in contemporary art, London, Thames and Hudson, 2009

The body is a tool in the work of art as it inspires us to archive and express what we desire. From performance art, photography, painting, and drawings, this book details how the body is important in each medium and why it is regarded as the best way to communicate with others no matter how minimal or expressive it’s exposed.

Shainman, Jack, Artist Talk with ToyinOjihOdutola, Odili Donald Odita, and Moderator RujekoHockle, Youtube Video, 2016

As one of the few artists to work with biro-pen in portraiture and wishing to open a conversation about the representation of Black/African artists and women in art, Toyin O. Odutola talks about how the use of the pen as the main tool in her work and why most of her work involves her body instead others.

Lehrer, Adam, Artist ToyinOjih Odutola Explores and Questions the Construct of Blackness, New York, Forbes, 2016

Adam Lehrer interviews Toyin O. Odutola asking her for her input in being a woman and a Black/African artist as well. She discusses the reasons why she embraces not only her blackness but also why she expresses it more in her art through using herself as a model in The People You Should Know piece (2011) and the use of ballpoint pens or biros.

Heymer, Kay; Livingston, Marco: Hockney’s portraits and people, London, Thames Hudson, 2016

As one of the founders of modern-day portraiture, Hockney talks slightly about the history of portraiture and how he not only implemented it into his work but has opened doors to discussing it through some of his paintings. As most of them involve full-body paintings, he questions us the viewers on portraiture and why it has to focus on one part of the body instead of the full body as it opens room for what certain sitting poses imply and why the clothes the sitter is wearing hint their class in society.

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