The Art of a #Selfie

(this was originally posted on on June 4th, 2013)

Down shot, overly yellow lighting, bathroom, don’t look into the lens, #selfie. Spending anytime online, on social media you have either seen or created a selfie on a daily basis. They are extremely prevalent and often frowned upon, memes are made of them and they end up on fail blogs on a pretty regular basis. Though the internet can be less than fond of this hashtag is the selfie changing or adding to the art of the self-portrait or portraiture in general? So the idea of the self-portrait is pretty simple: a portrait of oneself done by oneself*. A more lengthy description is: a representation of an artist, drawn, painted, photographed, or sculpted by the artist**. Really quite uncomplicated, it is something that anyone who has taken an art class or has a degree in art has had to produce multiple times. There are some people rely in the self-portrait as a primary art form; Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney, Rembrandt even. It is a hotly contested art form in general; it is hard for a self-portrait to come off as unpretentious and not self-serving.

Old School Vermeer #selfie.

Sometimes they can however be revered as the only way to see who the artist truly is, self-portraits can often speak volumes about the person behind the paint. The intention is often to do just that, to show the viewer something about you. The selfie is no different; its intent is pretty pure; “this is what I want to show you about me”. “Look at my new haircut, see how much I like Doctor Who I have a shirt, and I look awesome shirtless”. It may be a bit more shallow then some self-portraits that you are used to seeing in galleries but it could be argued that it is a lot more stripped down. The selfie is often produced by a cell phone camera, allowing you some but very little editing capabilities. You have far more control with a pencil and paper on to what the final product will look like. Like previously mentioned if you ever took any sort of art class you probably had to create a self-portrait of some kind. There is often one thing you don’t really consider to be a necessary material in creating art that is needed for a self-portrait, the mirror. It is something that endlessly pops up in selfies for it is frequently through a mirror you see the subject of the selfie. Using the mirror also allows people to see more of the person then flipping around the camera, a little less traditional then the ordinary self-portrait which typically focus on the face.

Post #selfie of Justin Bieber to instantly get more hits… 😀 shameless.
Full body #selfie, creates and interesting angle to fit it all in. Not a pun, I swear.

Often a selfie is produced to show off clothing, body or injuries. It is still of “self” and could even be considered a little avant-garde. “These clothes say more about me then my face can, they say who I am”. The mirror is an important part of the selfie even when it is not in frame; it allows the “artist” to create their desired framing. That is another important distinction that can argue for the selfie being an art form. The fact that the person who is producing it is concerned with framing, background, etc. means that there are considerations made to creating that “perfect” portrait. There are a lot of reoccurring themes in selfies as well, besides just mirrors, that also speak to the fact that there are unwritten rules to what makes a selfie and what doesn’t. There is the very popular to have a downshot, that have the viewer looking up into the lens and create a false sense of body shape. Also common are just body shots that barely feature the face, often just the chin and or lips. There is the increasingly prevalent “I was caught sleeping” or “Someone just surprised me”, the assumption is that they didn’t take the photo but more often than not they had.

Sometimes pretty girls make ugly faces…

The greater purpose of the selfie however seems to be to gain compliments and support from friends as to how great they look or their outfit is. This is where it often differs from the artistically produced self-portrait. However is there such a thing as a good selfie and a bad selfie? Though while its resolve is to gain respect and admiration it often falls subject to critique like any other art form creating a sense of what is good and what is bad. It is determined that more often than not the bad are male selfies and the good are female selfies. Women also take more selfies than, but then again women are more dominant in social media then men overall. The term is growing and its acceptance as an art form is being discussed openly in greater artistic forums, i.e. MOMA. In 2013 artist Patrick Specchio and the Museum of Modern Art presented an exhibit called Art in Translation: Selfie, The 20/20 Experience, in which viewers use a provided digital camera to take photographs of themselves in a large mirror**. Now there is also the pervasiveness of taking unattractive selfies creating commentary on the narcissism and oversexed nature of a traditional selfie. There is a very popular sub Reddit called pretty girls ugly faces that is a great example of this new PGUF selfie theme. Every changing the #selfie is changing the way we see ourselves and others. It is also undoubtedly changing what we consider to be a self-portrait in this heavily internet influenced universe.

*Merriam Webster

** Wikipedia


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