Social Media as Modern Day Portrait Painting

Portrait de Mademoiselle Chanel by Marie Laurencin (1885-1956) - collection of Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris

Historically, the rich memorialized their legacy by commissioning portrait paintings of themselves, which they displayed proudly above their mantles to mark of their conquest. Coco Chanel refused this inspired, arresting portrait of herself by Marie Laurencin, because it didn’t provide the ego boost she sought.

The most successful portrait artists accentuates their subjects best features. In classic portraiture, everyone looks better and more confident than in real life. Portraits were rarely actual or mundane depictions. They were aspirational and celebratory depictions. They picture the subject as they want to be seen, rather than how they actually are.

It takes real strength of character to admit ones faults. In a likeness, extra weight and wrinkles are faults. So painters removed them. As the middle class grew, more people commissioned portraits, some by photographers, but the objective was the same: to idealize a subject.

Today, portraits are snapped daily by smart phone users. With the help Instagram with its filters and effects.  Anyone can idealize a likeness and without arranging a sitting.  Visual records happen in the course of life.

I’ve never met anyone bold enough to allow any image of themself, regardless of how it comes out, to be uploaded to the social web. Have you? Consider the leading lady who accepts a role where she knows she’ll be required to wear an ugly face in exchange for an Oscar bid. We’ve seen it before. Sometimes, it even works. (Charlize Theron in Monster. Nicole Kidman in The Hours.)

I try to exercise control over the images I collect or upload to the social web. My objective is typically as aspirational as a portrait artist. Only the best of the best make it on my Instagram feed or get uploaded to Facebook. For me, social media has become modern day portrait painting.