Why take portraits?

From the very beginning of portraiture — one could argue from the very beginning of art itself — we have created portraits because things were important to us.

Since cave man days, these things that were important to us have been celebrated in one way: by putting them on our walls.

The most important things, whether it was victory in the hunt depicted in a cave painting, or an illustrious ancestor on the wall of a British manor house: that is what has occupied our wall space, both physical and mental. We have looked at these wall decorations, and been inspired, uplifted, motivated, warmed.

Until recently.

The rise of commerce has given way to something known as “commercial art.” It’s mass-produced, VERY cheap compared to other art, and vastly generic. It’s the kind of stuff that goes into mid-range luxury hotel rooms (luxury hotels can afford actual artwork, while cheap hotels just don’t adorn the walls very much).

And, since I vowed the other day to stop pulling punches in this blog

It. Is. Not. Art.

Nope. I don’t care what you call it. I don’t care what the story calls it. I don’t care what the maker (I will not honor them with the term “artist”) calls it. NOT. ART.

How do I know? One way. Art, whatever else it might be, is designed to evoke emotion. Go to a museum; everything you see was created with the idea of evoking some kind of emotion. Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko — even the most abstract of artists still sought to evoke emotion through vivid colors and patterns.

What makes art is emotion. You feel something when you look at it. It can be created to appeal to a wide audience, or a narrow audience. It can be created to say something universal, or something very specific. One can use a variety of media. Felix Gonzalez-Torres famously uses sugar-free candy in the exact weight his partner was when he died of AIDS to create his pieces. The first time I saw one of his works, I walked through the door of that room in the Art Institute of Chicago and thought, “What the ever-loving hell?” And then read the plaque. Result: emotion.

It’s surely up to you what you decorate your walls with. But I’d at least like you to consider that there could be something better than the “art” the furniture store tries to sell you along with your sofa. Consider letting us create something that you will feel a deep emotional connection with, for the rest of your life. There’s plenty of “beige” in the world already. Let your life have some color.

It’s important.