To Put the Soul in Oil Paint

Having completed a portrait and started yet another portrait, I thought I might invite you to hear my thoughts on why I believe a portrait of a person is best handled through the brush instead of a lens. Portraits of people work best when they create an emotional relationship with the viewer. I really don’t think the camera can achieve this relationship.

Photography forever changed our perspective on the human condition. Suddenly we could see where we were, what we were doing, and what we were feeling when we did it. We could celebrate our achievements and regret our mistakes. Photographs have certainly provided modern civilization with a new perspective on life. Say, the photograph was invented just over a century ago; what did people rely on to recall people, places, and events before the camera? Well – enter the painting.

Now of course there were other mediums to experiment and create art with prior to the invention of oil paint, but for the sake of this post we will be focusing on the oil painting. When photography was invented, I’m sure some people were wondering if the painted portrait would fade away, but here we have a case of ‘newer is not necessarily better’. Sure an oil painting can take days to complete while a photograph is near instantaneous, but so what? Does speed always translate into quality? Here is another question: can a photograph capture mood and energy? Well in some circumstances it can if you plan out the shot, including lighting and angle etc. In general, however, you are at the mercy of the instantaneous condition of the shot. The painting, on the contrary, offers control, manipulation at all stages, and provides a greater release of mood and energy.

John Lennon by Derek Russell 2012
John Lennon by Derek Russell 2012

Here is something a photograph cannot successfully capture – the heart of the subject as seen through the eyes of the artist. Only a painter can give the viewer a sense of where the subject is in thought. Only a painter can tell you what the mood is through a proper rendering of the eyes. A painting is not a snapshot in time, well it can be I suppose, but in my eyes it’s more of a perpetual loop of emotion. Look into the eyes of the subject and feel their emotions. Place yourself in their shoes and think about their journey to get to this moment in time. Walk away with a new sense of what life offers. Then upon returning to view the painting again, start the process all over again with perhaps a slightly altered conclusion based on previous experiences.

No my friends, a photograph feels too cold and artificial compared to the painting. It feels like a cold hard date in a history book, instead of the essence of the faces in the paint. Truly, painting offers emotional rewards that a photograph could never touch. You see a photograph, but you feel a painting. I’m not trying to bash photography; don’t get me wrong. I love taking pictures and I love the memories that my photos bring to mind, but when it comes to a portrait or a still life; give me a brush.
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