Creating a Portrait with Technology vs the Human Eye
How Technology Defined Painting & How We Perceive Ourselves
August 22nd, 2021
Yesterday, I saw an interesting post on social media that got me thinking about how we perceive ourselves through technology and how the impact of no technology would have on today’s perception on the self.
Taking you back to a time before the invention of a camera, How would you perceive yourself? People used a mirror, but understood that perception was a reflection, backwards. So other than a mirror, people used art to understand what they really look like to the human eye, which is entirely different to how a camera would capture you. The revelation that a camera cannot capture what the human eye sees, no matter what type of lens you use, changed how I understood painting from life, the art history of portraiture, the nature of the self-portrait and how I perceived my physical self.
As one of today’s social media “challenges”, people will reveal themselves in two different type of lens to make a contrast. But what is the most revealing are people’s reactions to the difference! Often they are surprised or confused. It makes me question if we know what we really look like.
Back to the post, it demonstrated a contrast of two lens, a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens, which are now mostly available in today’s cell phone camera. The first lens is used to elongate figure shots because it distorts the subject by making it thinner. The second lens widens everything through a compression effect, which is the closest to the human eye’s perception, but remember it is still not the same. (Click HERE for an example of different lens through a photographer’s work.)
It reminded me how plein air is organic, which is a contrast to the mechanics of following a photograph as a sole or one of your art references. It also enlightened an importance of realism. Seeing yourself displayed in material, a painting that is well executed by a master artist, was the closest thing to seeing yourself as how you truly are in the physical world, to the human eye. Suddenly, I found a new reason to defend the importance of realism in art and art education.
But also consider the human as a filter. Unlike a camera, we have feelings. We have thoughts. We have past experiences that mold us. For instance, when painting your model from life and use a bit of your intuition, you pick up the essence of your subject. Essence is not at all the same as accuracy. I see essence as what your human experience can add on to what you see. What feelings or energy you get from your model? What thoughts you have and why? It’s about being aware of your human experience and thinking critically how you can add that to your art. Being aware of your thought process during artmaking takes a bit more awareness.
In all, it makes me respect how raw painting from life really is and question what realism meant to me. Since the birth of modern art, teaching classical painting and realism has become obsolete in post-secondary art institutions and colleges. However, I was so fortunate to take two college drawing courses from life during college. Then when life got complicated, I switched to an online education for convenience. This meant I had to draw and paint from assigned photographed models. As a mom of little ones, painting from a photograph seemed the way to go.
Of course, there is no right or wrong way! Truly, I believe that. There is nothing wrong with using photography, which is its own art form to be respected, as one or a sole reference for your work. However, be curious enough to explore your own human eye’s perception and how much of an impact it can change your art.
Soon, I’ll be attempting to paint a subject from life. To me, being very comfortable with technology, it seems almost scary. I feel a little resistance because I know it will be challenging. But really, what is hard is just a skill you haven’t learned yet.
You can share your thoughts & comments on any social media platform below.