Portraits vs. Caricatures – Some thoughts.

In this post, I’ll differentiate between caricatures and portraits through their intent, structure, and usage.

Portraits – Definition

A portrait is an close approximation of a person’s face/figure in a manner that it captures the person’s attitude and personality. 

Caricatures – Definition

A Caricature is a humorous likeness of a person’s face/figure, created through selective exaggeration of his/her  physiognomy (facial features) and other physical attributes.

(Source: “Evolution of a Caricaturist – How to Draw Caricatures” )

Portraits vs. Caricatures – Similarities and Differences

Let us now compare the two definitions.

Here are the similarities…

  • Portraits and Caricatures both have a likeness to their subjects. (Read about Likeness here.)
  • They are both an artist’s interpretation of a person’s face/figure.

and the differences:

  • A Portrait is a close-approximation of the real face/figure, while a Caricature uses selective exaggeration.
  • A Portrait is based on a serious study to capture the mood, while a Caricature creates a humorous likeness.

These differences can be analyzed and reorganized under Intent, Structure, and Usage.

Portraits vs. Caricatures – Intent

They differ in intent, or in the intention with which they were created. Portraits are usually created as a memorabilia. Sometimes they are created to celebrate a person’s status or to mark an occasion. Generally they are created to address the esteem needs of a person.

Caricatures, however, are tight little bundles of humor, wit, or satire. They are created to present the subject in a funny manner. Caricatures ridicule and sometimes even insult the subject. When the objective of a caricature is merely to present the subject in a funny light, selective exaggeration of the features does the job. Ridicule and Insult usually requires that in addition to making the subject look funny, the caricature should also tell a story.

Portraits vs. Caricatures – Structure

Portraits are created by replicating the proportions and the colors as closely as possible. The objective is to achieve 100% likeness (this objective however is seldom met, except in the works of the hyper-realists, perhaps.)

Caricatures on the other hand, are created by exaggerating certain/all the features of the subject. Thus, a long nose becomes longer, small eyes become smaller, light wrinkles go deep, and a jutting chin juts out some more. Such exaggerations aren’t limited only to the face. A man with a slight stoop bends over totally, a woman with a tiny waist ends up with almost no waist at all.

Portraits vs. Caricatures – Usage

Portraits find their place on the walls of  the living-rooms, the conference halls, the important buildings…in fact, portraits bring forth the need to respect or at least acknowledge the subject of the painting. If you see a portrait of someone in a certain place, you can be sure that the subject of the portrait is/was an important person for the inhabitants of that place.

Caricatures often have a shorter life and generally people don’t want to display them in prominent places. Political/celebrity caricatures are often created for magazines and newspapers so that they may print them alongside to present a witty/humorous angle to their features and stories. Individuals too sometimes get their caricatures done, usually to mark an occasion (such as marriages, birthdays, etc.) Quickly drawn, sketch-caricatures are often drawn live. Live-caricatures are often used to spice up parties and other such events.

To sum up, Portraits and Caricatures are different in more ways than one :)

Now the Spoiler:

If we look at the dictionary definition of Portraits, we’d be stumped to discover that portraits aren’t necessarily required to be “close approximations.”

Here’s what my table-dictionary has to say:

A portrait is – ” pictorial representation of a person showing the face.”

So, technically speaking, a caricature too is a portrait :) 

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2 comments on “Portraits vs. Caricatures – Some thoughts.

    • The ones that I’ve seen could use a lot of improvement, even by my standards :) but on a more serious note, I seldom draw our politicos – they simply fail to enthuse me, so there isn’t a chance that I’ll ever draw for gustakhi maaf. Gustakhi Maaf :)

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