A portrait sounds like a relatively straightforward thing — a picture of someone — but across time it has proven to be a much more elusive beast. There are appropriated portraits, abstract portraits, portraits of pets, portraits of homes and desks and backpack contents, postmortem portraits, and portraits that are just piles of candy. For any rule you might devise to define a portrait, there is always  a bona fide portrait that defies that rule.

At a certain point, portraiture seems to be less of a genre than a blurry constellation of suggested guidelines, or even just something you have to see to recognize. That's when it's time to stop theorizing and start looking at the work of these 25 Awesome Contemporary Portrait Artists.

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