How can Portraiture elicit Participation?

Dr Tony Curran
2014 Conference

Despite the portrait’s status as a marginalized art form in a world dominated by spectacle, portraiture has much to gain from and much to offer the contemporary art world. This paper discusses the relationship between portraiture and the broader contemporary art world including the aesthetic and ideological foundations of both, and how these characteristics play out through the artworld architecture, with its increasing demand for audience participation.

By away from portraiture’s tendency for photographic accuracy and towards a portrait ideal which emphasizes subject participation over time, this paper proposes to bridge the gap between portraiture and contemporary art. While portraiture is founded on academic traditions of drawing and painting, aiming toward resemblance and recognition, contemporary art draws on a dematerialized, deskilled and conceptual tradition, revealing a gap between the portrait and the more heralded forms found in today’s artworld. The legacy of the conceptual and post-medium in contemporary art has blurred disciplinary boundaries, opening up dialogue to experts in diverse fields, while at the same time positioning artistic practice as a servant to those fields.

Reflecting on a recent participatory drawing projects, including a pilot project at the Museum of the Riverina and a more comprehensive study at the National Portrait Gallery, this paper explains how portraiture can engage with the institutional concerns of its discipline now and in the future, while contributing to broader issues in contemporary art and philosophies of self.

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About the author

Dr Tony Curran is a practicing artist and has exhibited nationally and internationally in drawing, painting, installation and sound art. His research has investigated the role of participation in portraiture and figurative art through producing in-situ life drawing performances at Australia’s National Portrait Gallery, the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery the Museum of the Riverina and Fraser Studios. Curran lives and works in Canberra where he teaches sessionally in Painting and Foundation Studies the Australian National University School of Art. Tony Curran also teaches at Charles Sturt University in Drawing and Art History.