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Old 01-13-2005, 11:58 AM   #1
Mike McCarty Mike McCarty is offline
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Figurative painting vs portrait




What exactly is a figurative painting and how does it differ from a portrait?
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Old 01-13-2005, 02:35 PM   #2
Cynthia Daniel Cynthia Daniel is offline
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I'm sure you'll get many opinions on this and sometimes the difference can be very vague. Often a figurative painting has the subject doing something in an environment or interacting with physical objects. A portrait could also, but I would say this happens less often. Sometimes a figurative painting has the subject in costume that is not contemporary or has a fantasy flair to it - but, a commissioned portrait could have these characteristics, but less often.

Generally a figurative painting is something intended to be sold to some as-yet unknown consumer, whereas a portrait is commissioned by a specific client. There are "practice" portraits or "for portfolio" portraits that a painter might do that are not commissioned, but have the general feel of a commissioned portrait and would probably fit best under the regular critiques section.

As you can see, there aren't hard and fast rules. Some paintings are clearly figurative and some are not so clear.
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Old 01-13-2005, 09:07 PM   #3
Claudemir Bonfim Claudemir Bonfim is offline
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Hi Mike,

You might visit Greg Olsen
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Old 01-13-2005, 09:57 PM   #4
Mike McCarty Mike McCarty is offline
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Quote:
Ps. "Adamek Children" might be considered Figurative.
Except to Ms. Adamek.

Claudemir,

I think Cynthia said it pretty well.

I've always thought of "figurative" paintings as those that use the human form to further along a narrative. The figure's specific characteristics being inconsequential. A portrait, on the other hand, would have as one of it's primary goals to capture the likeness of a specific individual.

It does get a little more complicated because we cannot know what the vision of the artist was. Must "we" be able to recognize the individual in the painting in order for it to become a portrait. This would suggest that the label of "figurative" or "portrait" would be decided upon by the individual viewer and not the artist.

Luckily this is one of those questions that will not determine the fate of the universe.

I've always liked Carole Katchen's figurative paintings.
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Old 01-13-2005, 10:00 PM   #5
John Crowther John Crowther is offline
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There are always going to be a lot of gray areas that are hard to define, as Cynthia rightly suggested. Still....

I think of portraits as a subset of figurative painting. Another rule of thumb I go by is that it depends on the artist's intention. With a portrait the center of interest and most important element is the face. With a non-portrait figurative painting the face is secondary to the relationship between figure and environment. And a painting that includes figures, such as a landscape, ceases to be figurative when the setting itself is intended as the principle element and the figures are secondary to it. Clearly the skill of the artist in defining where he wants our attention to go is paramount. For the viewer it ought to be clear.

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Old 01-13-2005, 11:02 PM   #6
Kimberly Dow Kimberly Dow is offline
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Even when I do figuratives I try to get an exact likeness - mainly because it's good practice, but also I choose my models because I like how they look. To me personally its fairly simple - a figurative is a painting with a person in it (more than just the head & shoulders) who doesn't yet have a buyer. For me personally a figurative should have a story-telling essence to it as well. That goes along with what Cynthia said about cosstumes, props and physically 'doing something.'

I am always on the hunt to convince my clients to commission paintings that have a 'figurative' feel to them. For me personally - they just have more to say and more to look at. Imagine a portfolio full of commissioned pieces where the clients are dressed in clothing more like costumes and doing things that are telling of their personalities...heaven!
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Old 01-14-2005, 12:07 AM   #7
Cynthia Daniel Cynthia Daniel is offline
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A lot of good points. Yes, I agree that portrait usually has the face as the main focus. But, I've seen some that did not, but they are truly the exception.
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Old 01-14-2005, 10:45 AM   #8
Mike McCarty Mike McCarty is offline
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I erred above when I attributed both paintings to Carole Katchen. The second one is by William Vrscak and is also in Carole's book "Painting with Passion," one of the best books on painting I have ever read.
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Old 12-20-2005, 12:56 AM   #9
Kimber Scott Kimber Scott is offline
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To me, it seems figures in "portraits" more often are engaging the viewer, where figures in figuratives are engaging other figures, their environment, or maybe their own thoughts. Although, many portraits do have a sitter who is not looking directly at the viewer and is engaging in his, or her own thoughts, or some other far away place. In these types of pictures, however, if the emphasis, or focal point, is specifically on the face, and there is no obvious narrative, I would call it a portrait - for example "Madame X."
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Old 12-20-2005, 05:57 PM   #10
Jeff Fuchs Jeff Fuchs is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike McCarty
What exactly is a figurative painting and how does it differ from a portrait?
This discussion made me think immediately of the Burton Silverman painting entitled "Mannone" at this link:

http://www.totalartsgallery.com/arti...Silverman.html

I have admired this painting many times, and feel like I can almost describe the personality of the sitter. Just today I came across the link above. I had always assumed the painting was a commissioned portrait by a sitter with excellent taste and sensitivity to the artist's instincts. If I had my own portrait done, I'd like it to picture me in my natural habitat, being myself. I wasn't surprized to learn that it was a figural work, but I was a little disappointed. There aren't enough portrait clients who would encourage an artist to explore their sitter like this.

Anyway, Mike, I suspect that you asked the question with full knowledge of the difference between figurative works and portraits, but you either wanted to open a discussion on the genres, or you want to pinpoint a definition, which would be elusive.

I would say a figurative work has two elements: anonymity, and sitters pictured in their environment. Neither of these are hard and fast rules, and exceptions abound, but it's as good a definition as I can come up with.
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