I spent yesterday afternoon scrolling through portraitpainting.com’s blog. The site creates original paintings after customer’s photographs. The examples are really great, making evident the funny things that happen when a painting is way beholden to a snapshot or studio portrait. Lots of weird, strained smiles and chiclet teeth.

I think, at first, I felt sort of contemptuous and maybe a little threatened, what with my art-school-trained notions of enlightened artistic process, but more honestly, I can’t help but admire the unfussy craftsmanship. A painter can save a lot of time when there's no fumbling around for meaning or supposed sincerity.

I wonder what the painters think about the process—do they see themselves as part of an esteemed tradition, today’s Titians? Is the work just a tedious way to make a living? Do they hate all those stupid smiling couples and cute little children, wishing they could focus on their true passion, plein aire landscape?

The site’s a real testament to the historically loaded ways we think about painted portraiture. Even as painting as serious art or career or whatever seems less relevant, paintings continue to narrate our cultural past, and therefore, seem prestigious and substantial and permanent in ways that photographs don’t. A bit like a vinyl record. We know that records will be around for at least another 70 years because they’ve already done so, and are a format that puts a contemporary recording in a continuum with Charlie Parker, Elvis, Bob Dylan in the same way that a painted portrait recalls emperors, kings and popes. At $300 a pop, a customer gets a painting and the authority of history.

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