Monday, August 14, 2017

A Rising Tide

International Artist Magazine, Issue #116

Chairman’s Letter-Edward Jonas


Each month, the Portrait Society of America office will send over a box of new and renewing membership certificates that have been signed by the executive director and require my chairman’s signature. I will take the box to the kitchen table and remove the stack of certificates—some months this stack may be an inch thick and at other times it can reach 3 to 4 inches—and by the end of the year, I will have signed roughly over 3,000 documents. It is a task that takes some time but one that I find very enjoyable as I flip through the stack to see many familiar names of our longtime friends as well as the names of new members, confirming our healthy growth. We could easily just have those signatures printed on the certificates, but there’s value in hand-signing each one, as it emphasizes the personal connection our members have come to expect from the Portrait Society.
Often while signing, I wonder what the motivation was for this new member to join the Portrait Society. Artists are not known for being “joiners.” They are often regarded as an extremely independent lot and as well they need to be—the creative life tends to be a very solitary endeavor. We can appear to be self-absorbed, shutting ourselves up behind the doors of our studios while we concentrate only upon the “making” of our art. Deciding to join any group wouldn’t seem to be very likely.
The Signature Status program is a designation awarded
to artists who are dedicated to the education mission and
high aesthetic standards of the Portrait Society.
However, if you were offered the opportunity to interact with other serious artists, especially those whose work is respected, then perhaps there would be a reason to join. Artists seek camaraderie and the sage advice of experienced and knowledgeable professionals, and those professionals enjoy having a path to be able to share their knowledge to younger emerging artists that have a desire to hear and learn from them. Both benefit.
My own experience in art school and then while trying to establish my art career was a contributing factor in the formation of the Portrait Society of America. In commiserating with fellow artists, it became apparent that there was a need out there and that perhaps if there was somewhere to turn for answers on how to put it all together, that large vacuum could be filled.
The concept of building an organization where artists of all levels and abilities would share ideas freely and openly began to take shape. It was apparent that if you were going to ask artists to donate their time and talent in a supportive an unselfish manner, that organization could only be a nonprofit, educational organization.
To this end, Gordon Wetmore, Tom Donohue and myself, in 1998, filed corporation papers in the State of Florida and under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of the United States Government as a tax-exempt charitable organization.
Founding Board Meeting of The Portrait Society of America
The code strictly sets forth that all earnings of the corporation must be used to support the educational mission of the corporation, and none of the earnings may inure to any individual or shareholder. In this spirit, never has any officer or governing board member been paid for their service to the Society; in fact, they all have been generous patrons in support of our mission. Because of this, we truly are a society run by artists for artists.
The term “portrait” in our name is not to suggest that we are only concerned with the discipline of portrait painting or sculpture, but rather we embrace the practice of all representational art that takes as its subject the human figure and its environs. Jamie Wyeth said it best in 2002 when accepting the Portrait Society Gold Medal, “I consider everything I paint a portrait.”
 
Members receive the full color quarterly newsletter
The Portrait Society’s primary goal is to keep people on a constant path of personal and artistic growth. For the artist, nothing is more depressing to face than that sinking feeling of stagnation. Sometimes just a simple dialogue with people who are or have struggled with the same creative issues can really help you get back on track. Our goal is and will always be to continue to offer our members the highest quality of educational resources and the most innovative programs concerning the history and techniques of figurative art and portraiture. This goal has been the focus of our society since its beginning, and will continue to shape our future efforts.
Since our founding we have seen a growing interest and some progress in a return to the teachings of representational realism in art programs with some colleges and universities beginning to move toward inclusion of skill-based curriculums. In addition, we have witnessed the atelier movement catch fire over the past 20 years. I hope that we have played some small role in the furthering of this movement, and I am thrilled to see the growth and continued support of the Portrait Society.
Fast forward from our founding in 1998 to today, and our growth is reflected in over 20 programs and publications that have been established over the years that furthers art in America including:  

  • The Art of the Portrait conference attended by 800 artists each year
  • Fall Portrait Academies, which is a series of intimate workshop weekends that features personal  instruction and advice
  • State Ambassador Program that serves as a local contact and resource for members
  • A volunteer committee, the Cecilia Beaux Forum, that promotes the role of women in the arts
  • Artist to Artist Critique program providing one-on-one feedback and advice
  • Signature Status designation recognizing those practicing and accomplished artists who are dedicated to the Portrait Society’s educational mission and high aesthetic standards
  • Conference Scholarship program providing tuition waivers to students
  • Online Members Only Competition showcasing recent work being created by our members
  • Recognition of leaders in the field through our Gold Medal, Leadership in the Fine Arts and Excellence in Fine Art Education awards
  • International Portrait Competition and exhibition held in conjunction with the conference, featuring some of the best work being created around the world
  • Quarterly, full-color The Art of the Portrait journal featuring techniques, methods and aesthetics, while connecting members to educational opportunities
  • 10-12 pages in each issue of International Artist and a full-page “Unveiling” article in American Art Collector
  • Fully interactive website and a social media presence with over 69,000 followers
I have been fortunate to be able to make my living as a practicing artist for more than 50 years, and in our present day, self-centered world, people may ask, “Why would you help other artists become better; aren’t you just creating greater competition for yourself?” I think the best answer to that would be to quote my dear friend and former chairman, the late Gordon Wetmore. When he would hear such comments would always say in his thick Tennessee, Southern accent, “Always remember, a rising tide lifts all boats.”

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