Portrait Painting: Fayum mummies, the Obamas, and now. Winter 2024

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Class Details

This course will be a hybrid studio practice and visual survey of the painted portrait. We will trace various approaches to portraiture and mark-making, from the Fayum mummies, to the portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama, until the present, in order to inform how we will paint portraits (of oneself or another) throughout the course. Portraiture and figuration have experienced an explosive resurgence over the past decade, bolstered especially by artists from historically marginalized communities. This course will consider the historic underpinnings of the impulse to render a person’s likeness, its function, and its role in wider culture. The course will culminate in a final exhibition of each participant’s work, which students will work on in- and outside of class for the duration of the course. We will begin by looking at a range of approaches to portraiture, along with various drawing and painting exercises. We will then spend the bulk of winter term working towards a single, polished painting, in oil-on-canvas. In order to inform our own works, throughout the class we will consider many of the touchstone examples of portraiture over the centuries, as well as contemporary works, to survey a range of styles and how their respective techniques and painted marks have reflected the zeitgeist or collective psychology of a time and place. The course will meet three times per week to engage in dedicated studio work, and group analysis of historic examples of painted portraits. Outside of class, students will be expected to continue their studio work, as well as additional drawing or painting exercises, readings, and possible film screening(s) and visits to nearby exhibitions. The final project, a single portrait painting, will be displayed in a group exhibition in Spencer Art Building at the culmination of the Winter Study period, at which time each artist will present their finished work.
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 15
Expected: NA
Class#: 1057
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: Presentation(s); Creative project(s); Final group critique with brief presentations by each artist, followed by an exhibition and reception.
Prerequisites: No experience necessary, but some background in painting and drawing is a plus.
Enrollment Preferences: Preference will be given to studio and art history students, and will be given to Seniors thereafter. Students who have taken ARTS 100 or ARTS241 will certainly hit the ground running a bit better but not essential.
Unit Notes: William Burton Binnie is an artist living and working in Williamstown, MA. He has been a Visiting Lecturer in Studio Art at Williams College since 2019. For more information visit:
Materials/Lab Fee: $100. Lab and materials fees are covered by the Book Grant for all Williams financial aid recipients.
Attributes: EXPE Experiential Education Courses
SLFX Winter Study Self-Expression

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