Recently a few artist friends and I were together discussing how stupid the art buying public is. Actually it wasn't quite that mean-spirited, but when the topic of photographic competition in the area of portraiture comes up, so do the hairs on the back of many painters' necks. Even as a portrait artist, I view the situation with an air of detached amusement inasmuch as my portrait prices are so low I can compete quite nicely, thank you, with the ridiculously HIGH prices portrait photographers charge for enlargements dressed up with stretched canvas, fancy gold frames, varnish, or even retouched with varying quantities of real, honest to God PAINT! Whoa...maybe I'm not quite as detached or amused as I thought. At any rate, I DID have the feeling of, as they say redundantly, "deja-vu all over again."
The whole problem boils down to the conflict between painting media marketing terms and the vernacular art media terms the general public is at least SOMEWHAT familiar with. The same discussion a few months before had centered on the whole area of "prints" (and associated, misunderstood terms) and NOW it had spilled over into the things companies do to portrait photographs, (and more important, what the CALL what they do), to make them look, feel, smell, and SOUND like original oil (or more often, acrylic) paintings. Photographers have always had the lowest economic level portrait buyers in their pockets. I try, but even I have difficulty competing in this market. We're talking about the midlevel art buying public here. They demand a perfect likeness, they don't mind trying to fool their art-ignorant friends into thinking they've commissioned an expensive original oil painting of a loved one, and most important they want to do so for a mere hundred or two. In some cases even THEY, as BUYERS, are so "art-ignorant" as to be fooled by unscrupulous portrait photo junkies. Keep in mind, these are the same people who buy massive cubic zircons to flash around to their friends as real diamonds. For them, it's the PRODUCT, not the PROCESS that counts, and the degree to which their friends can be impressed for as few dollars as possible.
I rather doubt there is CURE for pretension. I guess the best we can do as artists is to make it more difficult. Either WE educate the public, or THEY have to educate themselves. There is such a mishmash of art media terms today it's practically impossible to call a spade a spade without defining that it's a black playing card symbol with a pointy little thing at the top, unlike a club with three rounded thingies, though they are both black and have the same little handle thingie at the bottom. See what I mean? So, the problem is threefold, ignorance, public relations, and pretension. We have to educate the public to help them avoid being duped. In the area of public relations, we, as a group, have to emphasize the subtle, qualitative differences of traditional painted portraits over photographic imitations (and make sure there actually IS a difference), and by doing so, make it more difficult for people to pass off cheap imitations as the real thing.