To give myself a challenge, I decided to draw a distorted outline based on a photo of the character Lionel Logue from King’s Speech. This was to both try to sharpen my skills and to experience for myself that you can have likeness despite lack of realism, based on pareidolia (seeing shapes and forms where there are none).
This means you can stylize (read: develop a personal style) a portrait without breaking the unwritten rule of likeness with the original (the model). This example isn’t taking it very far, though. Baby steps.
The interesting thing about this kind of stylization is that it makes the observer’s mind work harder to see who is in the image than a photograph or a photorealistic image would. In effect, it makes the observer care more about the image than a perfect reproduction of a photo.
This is nothing new, of course. Artists have taken parts of what they saw and liked and put that in their drawings and paintings, while leaving out (or subduing) what they didn’t like so much. It is what makes art art. However, it keeps amazing me how far you can deviate from reality and still have an idea of what the original looked like.
A next step could be to only put onto a canvas what you like about the original and forget about likeness altogether, in other words, going an abstract route. However, this is breaking the contract with the observer, who can’t rely on having it look like something. He or she has to become an artist him- or herself in order to understand what is displayed in front of them. Familiar patterns are gone and only the preference of the artist remains in an abstract piece. It is stylization driven to its most extreme, where likeness is no longer required. In fact, likeness is completely absent in an abstract work of art.