The Selfie: A New Form Of Art

In today’s society, selfies have become overwhelmingly popular. According to the English Oxford Dictionary, a selfie is defined as a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or a webcam and shared via social media. Selfies have altered the way individuals socially interact, present their self-images, and they way they behave in public. But more importantly, selfies have impacted the artistic world by the lengthening of an arm and the click of a button. This new and innovative branch of photography has caused many controversial arguments to take place. Whether or not selfies are an art form is a question that is relatively daunting to many artists and art critics. Some see selfies as a developing genre of art that can be comparable to self-portraiture. Whereas others believe that when it comes to art, photos cannot obtain the same sense of composition that a painting can. Critically thinking, when selfies are perceived as art, do the creators of selfies and those who create typical self portraits have similar characteristics that deem them equally as talented? While selfies emerge into the world of art as their own genre, although some artists and art critics find it difficult to view selfies as art, they have many similarities to other self portraiture. However the producer of a selfie does not need the credentials or born talent to be successful with their interest; therefore individuals who take selfies do not fall into the category of an artist.

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The act of taking a selfie has become a genre that is completely different than ever before; the creation of a genre is not common in the world of art. Genres are a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter. Assigning the term “genre” to a selfie gives, this particular type of photograph, a label that one would not usually connect with it. Noah Berlatsky, author of the article Selfies Are Art, states, “But recognizing selfies a genre is different than saying that selfies have an overarching truth, be it empowerment or degradation”. In other words, stereotypically, selfies are viewed only by the subject within them; however, there is a much deeper meaning to each photo. For example, selfies are also a new way for individuals to express themselves by using emotions, angles, and backgrounds similar to other self-portraiture. Unfortunately, selfies, and even a lot of photography, are not considered art at all. The act of selfie-taking is often viewed as narcissistic due to the fact they are commonly shared on social media. Jessica McCain approves this when she argues, “For example, narcissism can be conceptualized as a self-reinforcing process in which traits such as self-promotion and social confidence elicit reactions from others that reinforce the concept, that leads to more of self-promotion and social confidence”. Furthermore, those who post selfies are also commonly associated with wanting attention from others that will make them feel better about themselves. In contrast, selfies act as a positive way of presenting photographs as a new art form. Although selfies are pictures of oneself, they can be used to provoke positive feedback on their artwork, but not to promote themselves or boost self confidence. McCain also makes the point that “The act of taking selfies can also be conceptualized as self-regulation; that is, a selfie can change an individual’s emotions and beliefs in specific ways”. Therefore, from an artist’s standpoint, selfies are posted and promoted on social media platforms as painters would create their work on a canvas; in a way to get others to view their work and to understand critiques from social audiences. Despite the frequent misconception of being narcissistic, when selfies are compared to old-fashioned self-portraits, there are many similarities that play a significant role as to why selfies are a new form of art. John Berger, an art critic, argues, “Painting is an art of arrangement: therefore it is reasonable to demand that there is some kind of order in what is arranged. Every relation between forms in painting is to some degree adaptable to the painters purpose”. The essence of Berger’s statement is that when it comes to painting, there are particular techniques that determines what elements appear and where they appear in the portrait. Comparable to painted self-portraits, selfies also require significant techniques that enable each photo to be perceived in the way of the artist’s purpose.

Aside from the technical aspects of taking a selfie, one is also able to display art within a selfie in an aesthetic way as well. In the article Identity Crafting: Reading the Agency and Art Implicit in Selfies the author, Margaret Nichols, argues “The attention paid to aesthetics in electracys reflects the importance of appearance crucial in photography of the self and self-determination inherent in self-photography. Appearance does not necessarily include the truth beyond the surface”. In other words, the content of a selfie is used by an individual to express himself in way that suits their personality with a fierce, passionate, and most of all, quick method of taking a picture. When thinking about a written auto biography, the apparatus of literacy furnishes the reader with facts that statements that are either true or untrue, however, when depicting a selfie, the apparatus of electracy supplies perceptions and impressions that will vary between all individuals. Concurrently, all photographs, particularly selfies, are understood in many ways by the audience. The audience will be the judge of what each selfie means in terms of electracy, like any other piece of artwork. Jerry Saltz agrees when he states “Looking back for trace elements, I discern strong selfie echoes in Van Gogh’s amazing self-portraits – some of the same intensity, immediacy, and need to reveal something inner to the outside world in the most vivid way possible”. More precisely, painted and digital self portraits are viewed in a very similar way to selfies.

Although the selfie has many aspects comparable to painted artwork and digital self portraits, there are features specific to selfies that enhance the quality of each photo. This being the case, the different perspectives of each photo have lead to a nostalgic trait that is specific to selfies, which gives them another reason to be considered art. Susan Sontag, the author of On Photography, states, “It is a nostalgic time right now, and photographs actively promote nostalgia. Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art. Most subjects photographed are, just by virtue of being photographed, touched with pathos”. In making this statement, Sontag urges us to understand that despite what the subject of a photo is, it had to be significant enough to be photographed in the first place. For example, an ugly, old, or unappealing photograph may strike the viewer as moving because of the way the subject is being portrayed by the photographer; or perhaps just the fact that the subject does not exist anymore makes the photo cherishable. In addition, selfies give one the ability to pinpoint important events in their lives and revisit those particular memories by looking a given photograph. Susan Sontag agrees when she states, “Each still photograph is a privileged moment, turned into a slim object that one can keep and look at again”. The fact that the action of taking a simple photograph can give an individual the power to experience significant times in their lives or others’ lives, by being able to apprehend where the artist was in the exact moment they captured a photo, is something not every piece of art can do, which is astounding. That being said, according to Liana De Girolami Cheney, a professor of art history, the portrait can be defined as a human image, individualized by physiognomic specification, subjected to artistic and psychological interpretation, presented as a work of art, and affected by the changing circumstances of perception. As mentioned before, the meaning of all art is reliant on the viewer. But when considering selfies, there are a number of independent variables that act as factors to determining a certain perspective. When different individuals witness the same thing or same event, each person receives a different perspective that is personal to themselves. And according to Michael Koliska and Jessica Roberts, an identical theory is also true when it comes to selfies. For instance, the location of two selfies will never be exactly the same; even if the selfies are taken at the same event, it is impossible for the camera positioning, the length of an individual’s arm, and the subject’s or the photographer’s placement in the frame to be duplicated. Margaret Nichols agrees when she states “Even the very location of the self is impermanent as sharing capacities and the mobile natures of phones remove any real world context of the portraits”. In further depth, Nichols is referring to the mobility and exposure of a selfie. As the artist is setting the scene of selfie, it comes with extreme ease to change the background or angle of the photo; simply by adjusting the height of one’s arm, typically to 45 degree angle, or turning of one’s body will alter the entire photograph. Is it possible that such a simple technique can furnish numerous, modern maestros of selfies? Or furthermore, is each individual that snaps a selfie instantly considered an artist?

While selfies have created an ease for constructing fine art, a factor, regarding the creators of selfies, has not been addressed. In the article “Art as Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie” Jerry Saltz himself writes, “Selfies come from all of us; they are a folk art that is already expanding language and lexicon of photography”. Saltz’s point is that selfies are not produced by professionals, but by amateurs, that have changed the world of art as we know it, and can still be cherished as art. Along with the question of what characteristics make art viable comes the question of the reliability of the source of each selfie. As stated previously, selfies are taken by the majority of people in today’s society including very famous individuals. For example, Kim Kardashian is so known for the selfies she takes; she has a book titled Selfish that includes a compilation of many of her selfies. Many would argue that Kim Kardashian is not an artist. However, technically, she is a published author; are these the credentials one needs to be considered a valid artist? When looking at the very famous Vincent Van Gogh, although he had a mental illness, he was a natural when it came to painting. He did not become famous for his work until after he had passed away, unfortunately. But with that being said, Van Gogh’s artwork seems to have more significance due to the fact that he is no longer around, as do other pieces of art created by other individuals. Selfies, on the other hand, are so casual and common nowadays that they do not have the increasing importance when the creator passes away; they photos themselves are seen as a nostalgic aspect, in memory of the author. Artists include individuals that fall into the category of being skill at a particular task or operation; and there is a fine line between an artist and the producer of a selfie. An artist can be an individual born with the natural ability to produce amazing pieces of art, or they can be made; this entails many hours of practice and dedication. Selfies do not need that talent; anyone can take a selfie.

Although it is true that selfies are currently created by almost the entire population, this is not the end for the new genre. It will continue to change and adapt whether society accepts it or not. It is not irrational to predict that as selfies become more and more prominet, that society will eventually recognize the producer of a selfie as an artist by definition. In the words of Jerry Saltz, “Whatever he selfie represents, it’s safe to say it’s in its Neolithic phase”. From individuals holding their disposable cameras to get themselves in the frame to being able to swipe over on a smartphone at any given second, this is only the beginning for the selfie as we know it. With all aspects considered, it is obvious that selfies have, indeed, created a new visual genre in today’s society. That being said, those who take selfies differ from an artist; artists can be born with natural talent or take time to perfect their skills. Furthermore, it is evident that the creators of selfies not do not need credentials to be able to perform the task of taking a selfie. As for the future of selfies, it is plausible that there will be a growing group of extremely famous individuals for taking selfies, like Kim Kardashian. Meanwhile, it is an act of taking a picture for all people to express themselves and the aesthetics of society.

31 October 2020

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