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The ROI of Painted Portraits

How crystalizing your personal and professional image can help you leap ahead of the competition


By Cameron John Robbins


Once upon a time, the walls of the average bank were lined with austere portrait paintings of the founders and directors of that financial institution. The humorless severity of those portraits reflected not only the fashion of the time, but a tradition that went back for many centuries. Captains of industry were depicted in exactly the same ways as heads of state and royalty from the renaissance. Their unsmiling gazes looked out at us as if to say, “Your affairs are safe with us because we take our job very seriously, we know what we are doing and we are very, very good at it”. When one is concerned about the turbulence of life, that kind of reassurance can be genuinely comforting.


Fashions have changed from seriousness and adherence to tradition to lightness and friendliness. Even modern Type ‘A’ personalities who are unapologetically in charge are under pressure to temper their lack of interest in their likability for the sake of their public image. But have we lost something in the process? Have we traded seriousness and confident assertions of competence for warm hugs? After all, a warm hug is only comforting if we feel sure that the giver is in some way capable of protecting us from the big bad world. When you’re in legal trouble, do you really want the friendliest lawyer? Or do you want one who is so good at what they do that it’s actually scary?


The Playing Field


It’s a universal evolutionary imperative to display one’s dominance, which is just another way of saying Superior Competence. Outward displays of wealth have always been with us. And as the nouveau riche population has exploded in the last thirty plus years, those displays have become a veritable flood. So much so that they have lost some of their cachet.


The profusion of luxury clothes, jewelry, watches, cars and homes have made them a dime a dozen. Even the most exclusive yacht clubs are now overcrowded with more magnificent behemoths than they can handle. These days, the only plan for how to stand out is to keep pursuing More and Bigger; unless one radically changes the channel.


As Marty Neumeier says, when everyone Zigs, it’s time to Zag.


The Power of the Old Masters’ Work


Modern portraits have lost much of the drama that was seen in those of the old masters. Like the modern business image, they often seem benign to the point of being banal. By contrast, the works of the old masters conveyed so much power, authority and majesty that even the children they painted seemed indomitable. And let’s face it, in spite of the very vocal modern antipathy towards notions like power, authority or competence, no one has ever been celebrated or admired, much less hired for their mediocrity or incompetence.


What has driven you to succeed? What has been your inspiration? Have you already achieved all that you are capable of? However successful you have already been, you have only scratched the surface of your potential. Any portrait worth investing in should capture that kind of expansive vision of you and your capability. Such portraits can be roughly divided into two groups, Hero portraits and Power portraits.


Hero Portraits: A Peerless Image


We don’t call someone a hero because their behavior has always been exemplary. No one's life can withstand that kind of scrutiny. We call people heroes because they have done something worthy of note and emulation under extraordinary circumstances. We lift them up and commemorate those moments as a reminder to ourselves that, even under the worst conditions, people are capable of greatness. We use their image to inspire us to strive for greatness too.


How valuable is your personal image? Hero portraits are not merely of you. They are very much for you. They are designed to be a heroic reflection of you, as a daily reminder of the person you aspire to be. No one feels like the supreme, unstoppable version of themselves at every moment. In those times of darkness, we need something to help pull us back to a bright vision of what is possible.​


Power Portraits: Establishing Professional Dominance


How much is your professional reputation worth? The right fine art portraits are an investment that can pay incalculable dividends in human performance. ​What if you displayed painted portraits of every top-level executive or partner in your firm? Imagine the impressions such a display would make on prospects and clients, not to mention adversaries. How might negotiations proceed if those sitting across the table from you had to make their pitch with imposing portraits looming over them? Such portraits could help you to dominate an exchange before you even enter the room.


A company that created such an impression would stand well above their competition, even in the most elite markets competing for the most sought-after clientele. Premier bespoke portraits make it clear that you are not an ordinary person, and yours is not an average company. Failure to make such things dramatically clear could literally mean leaving money on the table.


Imagine you are preparing to meet with a delegation for a very important negotiation. A lot of money is at stake for you and for them. The meeting is to take place in your office or board room; on your home turf. The delegation arrives well prepared and eager to gain their point. But you keep them waiting for a bit.


While they wait, they cannot avoid the gaze of the larger-than-life portrait of you which dominates the room where they await your pleasure. Your portrait exudes the strength, confidence, and unconquerable drive which has propelled you to the top of your profession. And try as they might to avoid it, that image glares down upon them.


Will they find that unnerving? Will the very thought of you become intimidating? It doesn't actually matter what they think. What matters is that their minds will be filled with thoughts of you; the specter of you. The point is that when you do finally receive them, they will be distracted from their object and so less prepared to face you in negotiations. This is one of the benefits of a Power portrait. And in this modern world of hyper-sensitivity and friendliness, few are prepared for this kind of display.


An Immortal Legacy


No one aspires to be an unknown blur in life. Premier bespoke portraits are a guaranteed antidote. The very nature of them compels people to ask Who was this person? In 1884, John Singer Sargent painted an American socialite who'd married a French banker. She lives on today as the elegant Madame X. In 1665, Johannes Vermeer dressed an unknown Dutch girl in an orientalist costume and painted her portrait. She will forever be known as the beautiful Girl with a pearl earring. And let's not forget the lovely woman with the enigmatic smile. Leonardo da Vinci's immortal Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous portrait of all time! And for as long as these portraits have existed, people have yearned and searched to know more about who these people were.


​Now picture the walls of the most gorgeous home you can imagine. On the walls hang beautiful painted portraits of your family - your ancestors, your children and yourself. Multiple generations of your posterity wander the halls and delight in regaling each other with tales of those forebears pictured in those portraits. Now imagine your great-great-grandchildren standing in front of your portrait, knowing it was you who established the empire that they have inherited. Commissioning such a portrait would truly be an investment in yourself and your legacy.


No photograph ever taken can do this with the same longevity and power.​

What do you want your most enduring image to be? A selfie? A picture from a press conference? A snapshot taken in ambush by the paparazzi? Or do you want just one expertly crafted image that reflects the best version of you?


And in terms of a return on investment, a one-of-a-kind bespoke portrait painting goes far beyond what other displays of wealth can deliver. While it provides a peerless personal image, a show of professional dominance and an immortal legacy, it can still be had for anywhere from the price of a mid-range luxury watch to less than the cost of a luxury car or yacht. So, you can either spend your next bonus on something that everyone else in your peer-group has, or you can invest in something that will make you truly stand apart in all the best ways.

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