Is close copy from a photo really art? What is good portrature?

Hello all - I was over at drawmixpaint and I saw a link for preview of the portraiture video. In the comments section I got into a back and forth with a fellow ( quite an excellent painter in his own regard) about the representational style of Mark Carder. I strongly disagreed with the man, but he did get me to thinking, and looking at different portraits over the past couple of days. I wonder what everyone here thinks. What all are your responses to what he is saying. To be fair I am going to invite the man to the discussion here so he may defend his own points. I love Mr. Carder's portraits and they don't look at all like simple copies of photos to me. There is a depth of color and tone there and something that speaks for itself that is not found in the simple photo. But this guy is correct in that there is a definite fussiness there that Rembrandt avoided etc., etc. So anyway, I just wanted to post here as youtube comments is not a great place to discuss anything. Thanks a lot. I cant wait to hear some good thoughts and learn something more regarding the nature of "art" itself.


  • One thing that I have heard many times in the past and I admit I never came to understand is the idea that he mentioned:

    " You keep mentioning "craft"...That's exactly what these kind of paintings are! That's my point entirely! No interpretation of the subject.. No insight into the sitters personality.. Just a straightforward, direct copy of a photograph! "

    Now this is what I don't understand - what is "insight into the sitter's personality"? Is it the way one is posed? How much insight can one perceive in a picture? Is a well crafted picture like a Carder Portrait not worthy. Is there no insight into the sitter's personality BECAUSE it is well crafted and meticulously painted? These are sincere questions. What does it mean to gain insight into the sitter's personality/person. (I would think that had more to do with the posing or narrative of the picture than the way that the picture is painted, but as I said I have never been able to understand these questions fully) Thanks.
    [Deleted User]
  • You might want to look at the original discussion - to get there go over to scroll down to the portrait painting video section and press "watch the preview" - it'll take you over to the youtube video and the comments section below has a discussion between rudy792 and dave05222.
  • > @Kingston said:
    > What's the question? Of course working from photos is art. There's a lot of crap painted from life. Is it more art than a good painting that uses photography?

    I think it is the close copying that was disdained not the photos influence. At least in my discussion with dave05222.
  • CharleyBoy - Right, exactly true. Mark Carder is one of the most sincere art teachers I have ever seen. He seemed to be teaching to see, paint, mix color (the most difficult part for many, and he simplified it radically!) and approach painting in a nonconformist, realistic way - a way that actually works. Really a pragmatic approach - art schoolish sentimentalism be damned. And he seems a really nice fellow besides. He was doing great selling his dvd at $129 from the size of his forum, and then just stopped and put the info online for free - now that is sincerity of purpose to my way of thinking. An excellent, reduced pallete approach!

    KIngston = Yeah disconnected to say the least. It evolved out from some emotive responses to my own looking over a great number of portraits that spanned a 500 year period. The initial criticism was that Mark Carder was just copying a photo - and that it was a useless task (not my criticism, but from a few folks over at youtube comments). I defended the process and a guy named dave took the offense for a few posts. The basic idea was why bother? Why not just hang the Photo? But personally, I have seen paintings like this in person, and the painting is far different than the photo to me. The color is always compelling and just the state of some of these types of painted portraits - there is a grandeur to them. Another criticism was that there was no interpretation of the sitter. That is where my questioning began. Is that true? If so, what is interpretation of a sitter? Is it better to have the person stand naturally before you, or is it artistically mandated to have them look away contemplatively and paint a mist around the head? Is there a true middle ground there - a real interpretation of the sitter that is a gift of some and not others? I don't think so, but some do. In the argument itself you can pick out the criticisms. I just wonder - what do others think of these criticisms (if they have been to the youtube page and seen them). Do others feel somewhat that dave has a valid point(s)? And sure, who cares what he says, but I have heard these things many times and from many fronts during the years. I am set to wondering ???
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] admin
    edited September 2013
    @CharleyBoy could not have said it better @rudy792. I actually followed some of your discussion on YouTube the other day but knew better than to get involved, it being YouTube comments after all. People say all kinds of things and ultimately there is just the reality. Mark showed his whole process for that painting, and whether it's art or not is subjective. He doesn't make any claims about that aspect of it. He has been commissioned to paint some very VIP portraits, and many artists have sought his instruction, so obviously some people would disagree that there is no artistic merit in what he does.

    But I will say that while it may not be all that apparent in a video on your computer, in real life, the painting is different and much better than the photograph was. It does not look the same. Mark has been painting for decades and even if he's just "copying" something, he's not actually trying to replicate the photo, he's just using it as a tool. All of the portraits on used photos as source material… photos that Mark took and processed himself. I don't think there is another practical way to paint a President.

    Anyway, the opinions of others are only as relevant as you make them. Anyone who puts themselves out there like Mark has is going to get some flak for it, but then there are plenty of people like the members of this forum too. Thanks for swinging by and I hope you'll stick around! :)
    [Deleted User]Ron
  • edited September 2013
    My opinion is that a close copy from a photo is no less art than a close copy from life. The idea that an artist needs to have and portray insight into the personality of the sitter is somewhat misleading to me. Personality is such a complex thing I don't see how you could convey all that in a single painting. If you capture the expression of the sitter you will have captured the mood. As an artist I think if you can capture that, you have done well whether with thin glazes or big broad strokes of the brush..

    If someone were to paint a picture of Hitler accepting flowers from a little girl and gently touching her cheek which I have seen on historical films, one might get the idea his personality was a kind and gentle one. In that moment of time his mood may have been adoration of that little girl. The reality was his personality was that of a murderous psychotic bent on conquering the world. Maybe not the best example, but things aren't always as they appear to be. That's why I think it's misleading to think someones personality can be portrayed in a single image
  • I do find it very liberating to think of myself as a craftsman instead of an "artist". I think that is how it used to be long ago.

    Hah - That is awesome! BTW, I didn't go through the whole back and forth on youtube, but I don't think that there was any discussion of the critical point that @Kingston made, i.e., that Mark takes the photos of the subject and that is part of his process. That being the case, there can be no serious debate on whether the resulting portrait is an original work of art. It is.

  • Some very good comments here. I can see that this is a place where I could sure learn quite a bit. I'll have to read up on how to do the multiple quotes. For now, I hope that I am not misunderstood - I am a fan of Mark and his teaching methods, and again, I have a great deal of respect for the level of sincerity he shows for the art itself by putting such excellent teaching methods up for free. How many of us have paid very good money for overpriced art videos that ultimately were of no practical use, or ended up being just another artist showing off his skills for the camera. As far as instructional materials I have found Mark's stuff, and all of it, really to be of practical use. I first heard of him regarding the limited pallete, which in my experience is the way to go. But every facet of his teaching is definitely boiled down to the most useful and applicable. To put it out there for free shows a love of the craft itself that runs deep. He wants folks to succeed. If you noticed over on youtube, part of the argument was based upon the idea of craft versus art as has been touched upon here. I just think it is a great position to hold, and true - that is how it was done way back when. I would not have minded being one of those apprentices, but then that is looking at it without the full knowledge of how many times they got whacked across the knuckles by the master!

    This draw mix paint method is the way to go - I must admit I do wish I'd been taught this way when I was 20. I have five young daughters who like to draw. I hope that I can get them interested in painting, and in learning according to this most excellent path. I think they would really enjoy it. Much thanks to Mark Carder for his thoughtful efforts
    [Deleted User]Ron
  • Esoteric discussions about what is ART? vs. what is not ART? I think misses the point of this site and obscures and confuses newcomers to Mark's efforts- which is fundamentally basic oil painting instruction.
    I've tried to figure this out on my own and only ended up frustrated to the point of avoiding the easel. In a moment of clarity, unusual for me, I decided to get back to basics. For me that was the Carder Method and in coming back about 2 years later the DrawMixPaint site.
    I've included three images. The first 2 are my attempts, without instruction, to paint, from an ad that appeared for breast cancer research.
    The third is a WIP I began after deciding to "relearn Mark's methods" via the new videos on the DrawMixPaint site, especially the Portrait download.
  • Nice work - The "General Art Discussion" part of the forum tends to cover a pretty broad range of topics, some directly related to Mark's methods, some not.
  • Is a close copy of reality really art?

    Did Vermeer or Bouguereau really create art?

    Did they cheat by using oil paints and brushes instead of mud and sticks?

    Should we wear wooden shoes? Should we suffer now curable diseases?

    I'm pretty sure anyone who has the craftsmanship to replicate a photograph in oil, also has the craftsmanship to create live portraits, still life, and landscapes.

    Why would one be considered art and the other not?

    I'll admit, a reason I find early realism fascinating, is it's sometimes like looking at a color photograph of a time and place that existed before cameras.

    But also, no camera can compete with the look and feel of a creation painted in oils, whether the source was a photo/camera obscura/lucida etc. or not.
    Martin_J_Cranerudy792[Deleted User]Rosanne
  • Johnw - great points. Thanks.
  • Working with something or without, abstraction or realism, all painted images come from somewhere, a visual reference in some form, or a conceptual idea.

    The final painting is something that stands on its own merits - it is rarely seen with its source inspiration. If it's good art, it's good, and it will have artistic qualities. Defining what makes it good or have thouse qualities is another question. But my view is take whatever you want, and make a painting. Make the painting well. Practice lots and reflect.

    I think Marks teachings gives you a method to start, a place to anchor yourself, the forum can then expand your notions of art and practice, and help you to develop faster. So while I agree with @Kingston I also agree with @Robert as people come to this site for different reasons.
    [Deleted User]
  • Is the front door still painted red?
  • At the end of the day, it really boils down to producing something interesting.

    Craft gives you the broadest range of avenues to get there.

    And of course "interesting" is highly subjective.
  • i don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to paint realism there are all sorts of levels to this genre of painting. i paint mostly from photos but i always change the work to be something i envision with in the context of realism you can't say my work looks like a photograph its very much a painting but i do try to hold my self back from getting to crazy with matching and i often choose my own colors i do closely adhere to value scales. i agree with mark most photos are so over exposed i almost always have to do a lot of editing to make the ones i get from fellow artist to work for me. not sure i agree with the over saturation comment i normally add color in to my photos but perhaps thats just my style and or Marks. i love contrast and tend to exaggerate that aspect so i can say comfortable that my work is art it has personal interpretation in it and there for is unique the photo is just a structural thing for me but on the other hand i consider my self a craftsman too my craft is painting but what i make is art . this augment about copping photos to a realistic level as being a craft rather then art is been around since the 60 its still old and tiered there are certain people that like this kind of work and those that don't just like every other genre of painting im not sure its worth discussing in the end
  • I started reading Figure Drawing for all it's Worth Friday during lunch and thought of this thread. He specifically mentioned projectors and "new" color photography as an aid to the artist and didn't see anything wrong with it. He did however say to use it merely for the sake of copying is no better than the photograph, and as the artist, it's up to you to put your own interpretation to it and make it more interesting than the photo. He also stated that if you copy someones style, or in this case photographs, to use it as a crutch only until you can walk. I thought that was an interesting point of view. I'm still in the crutches stage myself but I'm hoping to throw them away. Kinda like this

    "From that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running!" LOL
  • I don't think that there's any denying that you expand your abilities as an artist by learning to draw or paint from life. If you trace or use a projector because you don't think that you can learn to do these things, you should reconsider, because you're just selling yourself short. Anybody can learn to draw or paint from life with regular practice.

    But even if you can draw or paint from life, there's nothing wrong with working from photos that you took and projecting them as part of your process. In this way, you are using photos and projectors as tools to grow as an artist, not to hold yourself back.
  • werbywerby -
    edited October 2013
    This discussion was probably played out hundreds of times of many years. I have read artists painted on glass, used various projection techniques, and whatever tools at their disposal. You are an artist when you create something out of nothing and causes emotion to stir in you and the viewer. Your choice is the art and your obsession makes you the artist.

    Mark is a gifted artisan who has mastered the tools he has chosen to use. He is branching out into photography because it is a tool of his trade. Mark has taught me how to use color and improve perspective so i am confident to bring my work to life.

    I will not be painting realism or portraits because it is not where i want to be. I have chosen the route of an idea, hundreds of sketches, and a lot of time. I chose this route because i want to create specific points in time i wish i could have seen. I am lucky, as an engineer, i do not depend on sales of my work to survive.

    Simply put. Art to me is not the process but the result. It is not a hobby it is an obsession. For those of us that can do it make sure to respect the gift. A lot of people wish they could if not for the creativity for the piece of mind.

  • Just paint, sculpt, draw or create any way you can, there will be plenty of critics out there to judge the outputs, some may even know what Art is!
  • I am 67 and have seen so many peoples dreams and aspirations crushed because of opinions of others. As far as what qualifies to be classified as art is a question that will never be agreed upon because everyone has their own opinion. For me, if a subject is view from life, proto, or any other means it leaves an image in out brain, different for everyone. How we transfer that image and its emotional impact varies with each person. How it will be perceived varies the same. So for me anything created is art in some form and has value even if it is bad, it serve as a guide on how to improve. For myseld, I tend to look for the positive things in any creation.
  • Sorry about my typing, I have severe arthritis and need to proof read next time.
  • I repeat - just do it!
  • edited March 2014
    Well, I'm going to be a contrarian here (again). I think that a lot of potentially interesting conversations here (and elsewhere) about art are quashed by comments along the lines of "there's no use discussing it, its all good, don't listen to critics because we'll never agree because its all a matter of personal taste." Aren't we all here to improve, and doesn't than imply some sort of progression from bad to good? What does it mean to improve when everything is great? Of course opinions will differ, but it doesn't mean that its not a conversation worth having.

    To me, the point of most conversations is to learn something, not to reach agreement. I learn a heck of a lot more from people who hold opinions that are different than mine than I do from people I agree with. So I say, if you have an informed opinion about something like photorealism or tracing or abstract expressionism or copying from photos, or whatever, you should feel free to express that opinion, no matter how strongly held, as long as you do so respectfully, keep an open mind, and treat others who may not agree with you with respect as well. You're not being rude or mean or engaging in pointless conversation by doing so. And if somebody starts a post asking for opinions about broad topics like "is it art?" don't participate if you think its a useless or pointless discussion.

    Of course, don't let critics stop you from making your art or discourage you or keep you down, but don't ignore them either. Two of my harshest critics are my wife and my daughter, but, as Mr. Darcy would say, their good opinion is rarely bestowed, and therefore, more worth the earning. My work has really benefitted from listening to them.
  • This is a v interesting and informative discussion. If someone like Mark takes their own Photo's to paint a portrait, he will , because he is an Artist capture some of the sitters personality. This will be reflected in the finished Portrait. A poor photograph, with no personality that is copied faithfully with paint will have no personality in it. coincidentally I have just viewed the portrait by ebs and I commented that you could see the personality in it, the photo must have shown personality too. So much to learn and consider in this post . =D>
  • The problem I see is that that many people with opinions do not always have the education or the experience to do the criticism. Civility is another problem! :)>-
  • ebsebs -
    edited March 2014
    I can only speak for myself but the way I use the reference photo when painting may seem like to most people that I copy it or try to copy it excactly. That's not my intention and not what I do, although it may seem that way. Yes, much of it in my last portrait shown here on the forum is very close to the photo, but if you view it in real life, especially side by side with the reference photo, you will see that the the background for instance and the right side of the shirt is painted more loosely. There's some impasto strokes in the highlights in the eyes etc. The brush strokes doesn't show that well in the photo I took of it. Also I've changed mainy small things, across the whole painting but because I try to get the colors to be spot on, and the painting is very detalied it may seem like a faithfull copy of the photo. Even if I wanted to do the painting excactly as the photo, it's not possible to get it to be a 100% exact copy because I'm not a xerox machine. Perhaps the easiest thing to notice in that painting when seen together with the reference photo is that Ive made up part of the shirt, because it was too open in the photo. Also I feel like the whole painting when compared to the photo has a differnet atmosphere that'ts hard to explain in words. It just looks like a painting to me, but maybe that's because I'm the artist. But I often feel that way when looking at other realistic paintings done from a photo. Anyway, I really don't understand the argument that somehow paintings done from life or an artist who works exclusively from life is superior to a good painting done from a photo/a painter who works from photos.

    I myself don't find it much more difficult to paint from life (other than when painting things in different proportions than they are viewed). I paint both from life and photos. In fact I think it's easier in some ways to work from life, especially the color matching. I have't tried doing a portrait from life yet though. The difficulty may of course be in getting the proportions accurate, especially if the model is not side by side with the painter. So in that sense I can see how it can be more difficult, but I'm sure a lot of painters working from photos have no problem with it. Photo's is just a convenient tool.
  • I do try to copy things exactly -- I just fail miserably at it ... doesn't stop me though. :)
  • Its just my opinion but, I think we need to look at the end result- isn't that what we're after?
  • @rgr I don't know what you mean. The painting you did in Marks class is fantastic! Could be mistaken for a Sargent. Hope you remembered to sign it with your own name ;)
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