Matt Held Facebook Portraits

My dad sent me a link to an article about Matt Held, who has gained a modicum of fame by painting Facebook portraits; if you join his online group – giving him permission to paint you – he’ll search through your pictures and look for something that jumps out at him. My response to his fame (like all struggling artists) is a mixture of emotions like awe, jealousy, bitterness. I have nothing at all against Matt; I think the paintings/portraits are brilliant.

The reason in the past I’ve chosen not to do portraits is that they are too limited; they don’t deal with abstractions, ideas, and thus aren’t universal. After seeing Matt’s portraits, however, I remember that in fact paintings of people, whether laughing or crying, are probably more universal than any other kind of art.

And Matt’s idea is a great way to become successful as an artist these days – but ther’es the rub. Art, and photography, (at least art which is successful) is no longer self-absorbed. It’s no longer about itself; it’s quality, it’s purpose, or the artist. It is about other people. The way to get famous as an artist is to include as many people as you can in your work, to do publicity art. To let other people in on the creative process – the easiest way of course is to paint other people, strangers, and have them and all their friends join your Facebook group. No disrespect, Matt – I wish I’d done it first.

I’ve seen this locally with a photographer who did a local portraiture project. He photographed a hundred (or more) people, made the portraits look sharp, and had them all join his Facebook page to get there pictures. Then he sold posters. Fantastic promotion/marketing idea.

But if you take away the promotion – if your audience changed and was not the people in the pictures – would the art stand on its own value? In the case of Matt, yes, I think he’ll go on to be very successful (even though without his Facebook ‘break’, he may not have gotten the interest or attention he needed.

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