Portrait vs. Portraiture (What’s the REAL Difference?)

Using the terms portrait and portraiture correctly has always been so confusing to me. Everyone seems to use these words differently. But now, knowing the real difference between portrait and portraiture, everything has become crystal clear.

A portrait is the end product of an artistic rendering of an individual where the person’s likeness, mood, or personality is captured. Portraiture differentiates itself by referring to an overall category of art. The two terms are often used interchangeably, which technically is not correct.

I understand if you are still a bit confused. Read on to better understand how to use these terms and why the difference between these words is small but important.

Whats the difference between the terms "Portraiture" and "Portrait"?

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What Does the Word “Portrait” Mean?

A portrait can have three different meanings depending on its use as a noun, verb, or adjective.

Used as a noun, a portrait is an artistic representation of an individual that usually takes place in a painting, photograph, or sculpture. The purpose is to capture the person’s likeness, mood, or personality.

Creating a portrait is a derivative of the action to portray, which is the verb form of the noun portrait.

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However, the word portrait can also be used as an adjective like in this following example: A portrait statue. The word portrait is, in this sense describing the kind of art form you are talking about, in this case, a statue.

Before photography, portraying an individual in a drawing or sculpture was the only way to record a person’s appearance.

Therefore, the word portrait has been used for nearly 5,000 years, so you probably know its meaning already. But the term portraiture hasn’t been in use nearly as long.

What Does the Word “Portraiture” Mean?

The word portraiture can only be used as a noun. However, the word portraiture can have three different uses as a noun. Let me explain the differences:

  1. Portraiture refers to the practice of making portraits as a category of artmaking. Just like a conversation piece or a grand manner are terms of other categories of making art. So, portraiture is the term for capturing a person’s likeness, personality, and mood by drawing, photographing, or sculpting them. This term includes all categories of portraits, from full-length portraits to bust portraits.
  2. Portraiture can also be used as a synonym for the noun portrait. The word portraiture is very often used as a synonym for the noun portrait, making them interchangeable. Even a Google search for “portraiture wikipedia” asks if you really meant “portrait wikipedia”.
  3. And finally, portraiture can refer to portraits as a group. You could say, for example: This artist creates portraiture, including three portraits of herself.
A search for "portraiture wikipedia" on Google asks "Did you mean: portrait wikipedia?"
A search for “portraiture wikipedia” on Google asks, “Did you mean: portrait wikipedia?”

The Differences Between the Terms Portrait and Portraiture

As you have understood by now, the difference between these two words is minimal.

Portrait and portraiture both refer to a type of art where a person is presented in photography, drawing, or sculpture. So what are the actual differences?

The first difference is that the word portrait can be used as a noun and an adjective.

But the word portraiture is only used as a noun. And it is these nouns that can be difficult to differentiate.

And according to the different dictionaries definitions used above, I have found that you can simply put the difference between the terms portrait and portraiture like this:

A portrait is a product of recording the likeness of an individual, while portraiture is used as a term to categorize portraits as an art form.

The Difference Portrait vs Portraiture is Confusing

Is the difference still unclear to you?

For me, the difference is still tiny, and it doesn’t make it easier to discern when so many use these words synonymously. I read an interesting forum thread of photographers trying to answer this question too.

It became clear to me that artists themselves are having a hard time defining the differences between these two terms.

The people who commented all agreed that portraiture and portrait were used synonymously way too much.

However, they still weren’t sure about the correct way of using these terms.

The majority of the commentators agreed that the word portraiture was the act and process of making portraits, and portraits were the end result of this process.

And when one individual wanted to normalize the synonymous use of both nouns, others protested. I guess you can say that knowing the distinction between portrait and portraiture is still very important. And here is why.

Why You Should Know the Difference Between Portrait & Portraiture

Even though many people disregard the difference between the terms portrait and portraiture, you can still choose to use the terms in a more structured way.

Knowing the difference between the terms and using them accordingly will make you look more professional in your work and help you gain more trust.

You Come Across as More Professional

Using the noun portrait when referring to the artmaking product will help the audience understand exactly what you want to say and gain you more respect.

And with that respect comes a feeling of you knowing what you are talking about. As a result, you will seem more professional.

Just like confusing your with you’re, or then with than will have you seem less professional, knowing that portraiture refers to portraits as an artform will make you seem more professional.

However, remember that you will only seem more professional among those who know there is a difference between portraiture and portrait in the first place.

People Will Trust You Know What You’re Talking About

By using the terms portraiture and portrait in the correct way, others will definitely sense that you are confident in what you are speaking about.

Even though they themselves might not know the difference, your knowing how to use the terms correctly will certainly show through.

And with that confidence often comes the benefit that others will trust you in your knowledge of the area.

Now knowing that there is a difference between the words portrait and portraiture, would you trust an art professional if they used these terms in an incorrect context?

I would want them to read this post and would maybe wonder what else they didn’t know. Wouldn’t you?

100 of the most famous portraits of all time.

The Synonymous Use of the Terms Portraiture and Portrait

We have to acknowledge the fact that the dictionary still allows the synonymous use of the terms portrait and portraiture. And here is why.

The confusion with the correct use of the terms portrait and portraiture has been going on for too long.

Many art forums still confuse these terms and use them synonymously.

So, now the real meaning of the word portraiture has changed. The dictionary has coughed up and normalized the synonymous use of the word portraiture for the word portrait.

Even though using the terms portrait and portraiture as synonyms have been normalized, there is still a difference between these terms.

You still can’t use portrait as a synonym for portraiture. The synonymous use is only correct the other way around.

Here is an example of when you can and can’t use these terms synonymously:

He painted portraiture/a portrait of his dog.

The majority of her work is portraiture/portraits.

I want to have my portraiture/portrait taken.

Having this synonymous use normalized only gives us more opportunities for using the words portraiture and portrait.

Now it is up to you. How would you like to use the nouns portrait and portraiture?

To Sum it Up

I hope this post made it easier for you to understand how to use portrait and portraiture correctly.

Knowing the difference and using these terms in their right context will look more professional and gain trust.

Just remember to use the word portrait when referring to a product of an artistic representation of an individual and portraiture referring to portraits as an art category.

It can be that simple if you let it.  

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