Check out this article in Hyperallergic by Chiquita Paschal on how people are feeling about Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama. And — before committing any judgment of the portrait to Twitter or Facebook, you might want to take a look at Amy Sherald’s website and the many portraits that are on view there. Personally I love the simplicity of the portraits for their up-front and simple design, bold colors and lines, and lack of nostalgic markers and other social cues that shout out “black culture” or history. Each portrait is unapologetic and straightforward; yet somehow they also retain a little mystery, keeping a sense of individual dignity, even though a few of the subjects are doing things that may appear transgressive to some viewers.
Although there have been complaints that Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama doesn’t capture the exact likeness, I did recognize it as immediately her — though not exactly the same likeness as her photo images or videos. But that’s not the point, really. The portrait of Barack Obama doesn’t look exactly like him, either. Each artist leaves their imprint in the sense that we view the subject, more or less, through the lens of the artist’s eyes — and this is as much about the artist as it is about the subject, no?
After looking at the other portraits in Sherald’s website, I think what strikes me most about the portrait of Michelle is that she, like the other subjects of Sherald’s portraits does not seem particularly elevated just because of her station in life. She’s wearing a beautiful dress, yes, and she looks lovely, but in an everyday way; she is one of us — as portrayed by the artist.
We live in a world where it’s way too easy to pass judgment summarily on social networking platforms. An opportunity like this can be used to enter a discussion about art from many points of view. As writer Paschal notes, “the artist deserves, if nothing else, a thoughtful response.”