08 March 2009

The Popularity of Portraiture

Have you ever thought about the difference between a snapshot and a portrait?

Is it like comparing a caricature and a realistic depiction of someone?

What about symbolism as a reflection of mood or personality?

How might you better understand another person, or yourself, through art?

Self portraits

If you have been following any (or all) of my blogs over the past few weeks, you will have seen that I have used various pictorial depictions of myself in my profile, from some that are fairly realistic snapshots, to some that are portraits, to some that are symbolic, and even one or two that might be caricatures.

How do you make pictorial representations of yourself? Here is one of my primitive, minimalist self-portraits, or maybe it is just a caricature, you can make up your own mind:

Does the above picture say anything at all about me? Why might I have used that image of myself?

As a social scientist, I am interested in how people respond to each other. When using several different images to represent myself as the blogger Via, I have made a record of which ones have attracted the most attention from people looking through blog lists.

My conclusion has been that more realistic representations of the human face usually attract more visitors to my blogs. This might be because portraiture has been very popular in western culture for several centuries, and most users of computers are at least reasonably familiar with that culture.

The Archibald Prize

In Australia, this year's winner of the Archibald Prize for portraiture has just been announced. The Archibald is the most famous art prize in this country and many people visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales each year to see the exhibition.

In London, my three favourite places to visit when I was younger were the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Mankind (now closed) and the Museum of London. All of these places are/were about people in various ways. When in Paris, many people visit the Louvre for one main reason, to see a particularly famous portrait.

The Archibald Prize exhibition, like many portrait galleries, requires that the pictures on display are of people who are, or have been, prominent in society in some way. Could it be, then, that people are attracted more by the prominence than by the portraits?