About Art And Art Selfies

I keep having to revise my position on art selfies. I don’t know. I still hate the fact that most museum patrons seem to be there to say that they were there, to have the pictures to prove it; that they’re not seeing the art, they’re seeing themselves with the art. At the same time, I don’t want to fall down the rabbit hole that says “Selfies are bad! You’re so vain! How can you be so self-absorbed! Gosh!” Passing that kind of judgment is even more annoying than being a museum patron who makes the gallery attendant’s day as aggravating as possible by touching the god damned frames while you take a selfie when you know full well you’re not supposed to.

It occurred to me today that actually, yes, I have taken some art selfies. Six to my count: One with a Rashid Johnson, when I couldn’t help taking a selfie because the artwork was a mirror; ditto a Donald Judd; a Leo Villareal in Washington DC because it was insisted that I be in at least a few pictures from the trip; one that’s really just a picture of my boots with some street art that was on the ground; one of myself in a Lygia Clark sensorial mask; and a last one of my wrist, which has a tattoo of Lynda Benglis doing a floor pour, foregrounded over that very same floor pour, in the MoMA. It was a novel moment, I couldn’t help myself.

But there it is: “It was a novel moment, I couldn’t help myself.” To me, good art is a distillation of the human experience. Or, in other words, it’s the purest expression of what it feels like to be human. I think that’s why we love Van Gogh so much – because the artist is so present in his work. You can tell by the brushstrokes what he was feeling, and we know he felt so much, and it’s all there on the canvas. These aren’t ordinary objects, they’re objects that are imbued with the human spirit, if that’s a thing.

So there’s something about art that makes us want to share it – not “share” as in “on Instagram,” but I’ll get to that idea in a second; “share” as in “share the sentiment with the artist.” We want to feel like part of the art is ours, part of it is something we understand and experience, too. Maybe people who hate contemporary art hate it because they don’t understand how to access the feeling the artist left in the work. Figurative paintings and sculptures are definitely easier to understand and connect with emotionally.

So maybe when we’re taking photographs of ourselves with artworks, we’re trying to express that idea, that it’s ours, there’s something about it that we get. On the other hand, sometimes we really are just being offensive jackasses, like with Kara Walker’s Sugar Baby. The great thing about that is that Walker knew it would happen, and it only helped to prove the point about the exploitation of women’s bodies, particularly black women’s bodies. The people who pictorially manhandled that woman were part of Walker’s artwork, which just goes to show how really and truly good she is. It’s a subversion of the idea that the artwork belongs to us: If the artwork is a woman’s naked body, and we treat it as if it belongs to us, it says an awful lot about our culture’s view of women. But I digress.

There’s a book of art selfies that was just published by art mag DIS, a collection of photos gathered through Instagram and the hashtag #artselfie. To me, the most telling selfies are those in which the photographer mimics the painting, as if they are in or part of the artwork, as if they empathize with it. But photos of reactions to artwork are just as valid, because they constitute a conversation between the artwork and the viewer. Even when people use artwork as a backdrop, it’s not unprecedented: Vogue used Jackson Pollock’s paintings as a backdrop for a 1951 fashion spread.

Then, of course, there’s the impulse to share – share on Instagram, this time. Maybe we really are all turning into artists on some low level. We choose how to compose our photos and how we want them to represent us and our lives. We understand that there’s a dissonance between our lives and the way we represent them on social media. We’re all the artwork and we’re creating the artwork, at the same time. That’s no small revolution in the world of art.



[Huffington Post]

[Jean Boite]




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