The human form has been the subject of art for centuries, yet the moment people are the ones making art based around their own form, it’s called vanity.
I’m a big supporter of how technological advancements have moulded our society - from the ‘crying laughing emoji’ being heralded as the word of the year by the OED, to the birth of selfies. Hence, the Saatchi gallery’s selfie exhibition is of great interest to me. I can understand people’s outrage at the gallery exhibiting selfies and calling them art. After all, Van Gogh’s self portraits took far more time to paint than it took Obama to tap his iPhone screen to snap a selfie with David Cameron at Mandela’s memorial service. However, I believe that selfies can still be seen as an art regardless of how much effort may go into the taking of them.
Selfies are a form of self-expression, which perfectly capture how modern technologies - such as camera phones and social media - allow people to be the authors of their own identities and express themselves however they choose to through what they post online etc. The selfie is one way in which people express themselves - is that not what all self-portraits are about?
The exhibition also isn’t just a showing of lots of modern selfies. It features artists like Tracey Emin and Van Gogh. It is a historical timeline of self portraits and one’s expression of oneself, so why on earth shouldn’t selfies be featured? If the exhibition is to truly show a timeline of different self portraits, it’d be a crime not to include some.
The gallery is renowned for its controversial art - such as Richard Wilson’s ‘20:50’ which is essentially a room filled with oil. If contemporary art is simply ‘the art of today’, then surely something like selfies which are both extremely popular in modern society, as well as heavily controversial deserve to appear in the gallery. The concept of the ‘selfie’ and the words itself has been legitimised to the extent that it has been added to the OED, so why not add it to our art galleries?
I am a firm believer that pretty much anything can be presented as art if the apt amount of thought is put into the work. People so willing to label a urinal as a piece of art but Kim K’s selfies as trash. I believe that the act of putting anything up in an art gallery changes people’s perspective on it. Instead of merely looking at things as mundane objects or images seen on a daily basis, people begin to look for what’s special about these things and learn to appreciate them in a new light. When considering selfies in this respect, I think a strong connection can be made between self-portraits and self-love. If a selfie is seen as something beautiful and creative and an art, rather than a little slice of megabytes and vanity, we can see ourselves and others depicted in selfies as beautiful works of art too
When has that ever been a bad thing?
Carys Rose Thomas