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March 6, 2007

The Artist's Introductory Portrait - Part 2

This is about artists' introductory portraits, again. I'm including several links to artists' biography pages, along with my comments on the artists' "introductory portraits" on those pages.

The basic conclusion I came to in my last post, Artists' Introductory Portrait, about what kind of an image of themselves artists should have on their biography pages, was that "different artists, and different artwork, have different purposes, and what I have figured out would be good for me would hardly apply to most others - They know what it is they want to feature about themselves and their own art."

This conclusion was reached after giving more thought than I ever had before to whether I should have a picture of myself on my own website's biography page, and, if so, what kind, and also thinking about what I've seen over the years on other artists' (and photographers') biography pages.

After I posted that article, I thought it would be a good idea to look at several current artists' biographies and really think about the pictures of themselves they had on their biography pages, and what effect they had on me, and so I've spent hours doing so in the last couple of days. As I found pictures that seemed especially notable, I wrote comments on them and saved the URLs.

I only noted what I thought were pages with effective pictures, so will not list any that were duds. Perhaps one of my next posts will be about "artists' intro portrait duds," but I won't link to those sites nor will I name anyone. By the way, in my long search, I found far more "duds" than good examples.

Nor did I save any that, although I thought they had good biographies, didn't have any pictures at all; but in fact, I want to say that some of the (to me) best biographies included no pictures of the artist. Indeed, I was convinced by those to have no picture of myself on my biography page, or else to be satisfied with the picture I have of myself as a friendly-looking little girl. This is not because I don't think there should be an "introductory" picture of the artist, but because I don't believe that I'm able to produce one of myself that would be right for the job - Maybe someday.

Myself (left) as a young girl - It's better than no picture at all (I think), but not the best solution

It seems obvious that the choice of a "portrait" (sometimes these are very casual-looking snapshots, but you know what I mean) to represent someone (anyone) on their biography page depends on what kind of impression they want to make (and on whom), and it struck me that when it comes to artists these fall into mainly just a handful of different categories (which I believe I'll write about in a future post).

There are obviously many artists, though, of all types and abilities and quality and quantity of experience, and with many different kinds of goals for themselves and for their artwork, who apparently have never thought much about what their introductory portrait connotes about them.

Many put up the most off-putting pictures that can be imagined, and one wonders what they were thinking (just as I look at some of the artwork I've put on my website and wonder what on earth made me put that up! -- Off it goes!). The impression the picture gives is probably not what the artist was hoping for in many cases. I'm sure many artists were talked into using the pictures they include, not having been able to decide for themselves (just as I've been having a hard time deciding on mine).

It's not the person him- or herself who is offensive or irritating, but how they are portrayed in the picture - What is it saying about them? The pictures speak louder than any words that are on the page, and it would have been better in many cases if they didn't let the picture speak for them, it seems to me.

The fact that many people apparently do not realize what kinds of impressions different pictures can make speaks poorly of their artistic sensitivities. At least this is the impression people might get. It's very difficult to get things right, and that's why I'm opting for the easy way out right now.

It happens that I generally look at people's artwork first, and in fact seldom look at the biographical page at all. If I did look at the bio page first, in many cases I would lose interest in looking at the artwork of some of these people, due to the picture(s) of the artist - not due to the artist him- or herself, but due to the picture of the artist. While it might be a fine, effective portrayal of the person when seen in some other context, it is sometimes just plain "wrong" for the biography page.

Links to biography pages with what I thought were effective artists' pictures on them, are below (click on the artist's name to get to his biography page). I didn't mean for them all to be male artists' pages, but that's how it turned out. In a future post I will tell why I think the female artists' pages that I looked at did not make my list!

Artist: Benjamin Shamback

My notes: On his biography page, he has an unpretentious snapshot in which, fairly close up (with what looks like a brightly-lit dining room and window wall in the background) he gazes directly into the camera with a pleasant expression on his face - It's very welcoming ... Welcoming us into his home, or such is the impression, at least. It looks like there's no one else around. He's waiting for us. Maybe we'll sit over at that table and have some coffee.

Artist: Richard Schmid

My notes: He has a very well-thought-out photo, I think. It's small, in black and white, but it's very interesting, doing an amazing job of communicating a few different things quite thoroughly: 1) that he is a dyed-in-the-wool dedicated artist, 2)that he paints in a natural setting, and 3) that his "natural settings" are not in a neighborhood park or out in the back yard but "way out in the woods" somewhere.

It's a small and very busy picture, but his head is right in the center of it and he's definitely the center of attention, and ... he's wearing a beret! He looks very "artistic" as well as handsome, with a beard, too, and a long (woolen?) scarf around his neck to add to the impression ...There's a pleasant look on his face, too, as if to him the viewer is a wonderful thing to behold, bringing a pot of hot tea and some little cakes perhaps.

There's a lot of "life" in the picture - Implied action. For instance, he's holding his eyeglasses out in one hand as if he's just removed them, to see us more clearly, and there appears to be a pencil between fingers of that hand (which says "artist" again) which of course indicates he had been about to use it. The other hand is up at his easel, holding what appears to be a brush as if he was interrupted while painting.

To help drive home the idea that this is indeed a dedicated artist, not a Sunday painter, in the foreground there is an open, paint-splattered, quite large lid to what probably was holding the easel, paints, etc. And you can just see the crook of a wooden cane, too, which gives you the impression he's been hiking about, and didn't arrive in a car parked nearby.

In the background there are lively-looking (because of the angular lines) branches of a needled tree, right behind the artist (doesn't look like a pine, but something like that - a cypress, maybe), and there's quite a lot of depth back into the scene behind the artist and the tree. Remember this is a tiny picture, but there's a lot going on. Behind that needled tree and the artist is a body of water - a lake, I assume (no boats or other sign of life, so you get the feeling he's far from civilization) - and you can see some of the far shore with needled trees down to the water. I can't believe all the "excitement" and "drama" that's in this little picture, and it looks so much at first like a simple snapshot rather than a carefully-composed picture (but it is carefully composed). I congratulate him, or whomever did the staging. (By the way, I'm sure this is meant to be a parody - a comical exaggeration of all things "artistic.")

Artist: Jeremy Lipking

My notes: Also a good photo - Simple, he's looking directly at the camera as if at the person looking at the page, with a look of interest and if not a smile, it's close to one - It's a pleasant look.

Artist: Frans Koppelaar

My notes: On his "about" page - There are two small photos, one where he's standing, holding palette and brushes, with a painting behind him - wearing a hat - He looks very "artistic" (wearing such a hat inside a room) but not snobby - He deigns to gaze right out at the viewer with a neutral-to friendly look; at least he looks conscious of and patient with the person who's looking at him (us).

The other photograph shows him from the back sitting in a lawn chair out in a field, working on a picture. Both pictures to me are just right, and it's good to have the two of them.

Artist: William Wray

My notes: On his biography page he has what appears to be a photo of himself taken when he was a little boy, drawing with chalk, I think. This reminds me of my own picture, but at least he's drawing - I was just sitting there on a step, looking at the photographer (my mother, no doubt).

Artist: Robert Becket

My notes: A small, color photograph, with his body (mostly not seen) sideways and his head, close up, turned (implying that he had just turned his head) to gaze directly at the viewer, with a slight smile, enough to make you know he's aware there's someone looking at him, and he doesn't seem to mind at all. A nice, simple picture, with dramatic lighting on his head, half in shadow (making him stand out from the background), and "looking at him" is a girl in one of his pictures on a wall behind him, with eyes at the same level. I like this.

Artist: D. Jeffrey Mims

My notes: He has one of his landscape paintings rather than a picture of himself on his biography page. Personally, I like this way of presenting oneself on an artist's site. He knows it's about his artwork, not him ... or he feels it should be.

Artist: James Kasper

My notes: He's a sculptor or potter - I'm not sure what you'd call this kind of artist. The site is called Prairie Dog Pottery, Inc. He makes "woodfired ceramics," most very unique and interesting-looking to me. The picture of him on this page shows him seated in front of one of his large "sculptures" so that he appears to be part of it (to me this is a way to show one has a sense of humor). He's facing the camera directly and although the image is tiny, he looks unintimidating, at least -relaxed and not apparently in a hurry to get out of there.

Artist: Thomas Buechner

My notes: Wait until you see his picture! It's a self-portrait, that's all I'll say. It's a surprise. I like it!


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JV said...

I have now changed the biography page on my site and, due to having thought about this a lot since I wrote this article, I decided to add another picture of myself (as well as a couple of my drawings).

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