Our favourite Arts Writers discuss The Saatchi Gallery’s next exhibition: selfies as artwork.
The exhibition suggests that with smartphones, we can channel our inner creativity and self-expression by snapping a selfie and uploading it to social media. To a certain extent, there is creative allowance with selfies: one can alter the composition, over-expose, under-expose, employ a black and white or a sepia filter, or even super-impose a dog tongue and ears to the photo. It can be an ego-boost: if you’ve just been dumped, you can upload a cracking selfie, rack in all 108 likes and feel like Beyoncé. I am usually an ambassador for a bit of self-promotion to help your confidence, but is this – let’s face it, narcissism – an art form?
The more traditional art-form of self-portraits – Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo’s being examples of this – reveal the true emotions of the artists; they are not examples of self-promotion, but of self-expression. Kahlo’s self-portraits reveal her physiological and physical suffering, as she was rendered immobile in her chair; her paintings depict her grieving process of her infertility and of her husband’s unfaithfulness. Gogh’s self-portraits similarly expose his suffering, as they portray the journey of his mental-illness; his Self Portrait with Straw Hat to Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear show his transition to the self-inflicted suffering of his mutilated ear. Are these vulnerable pieces of self-expression even mildly comparable to Kim Kardashian’s shallow, self-obsessed bathroom selfie?
“Selfies do not expose raw self-expression that the self-portraits do, but instead promote a fake happiness”
The Kardashian’s selfies are not creative, they are just full-blown examples of self-glorification; they are also tangled up in a web of promoting products such as a Waist-Training Corset which endorse the unhealthy obsession of retaining an unrealistic waist the size of a starving 10-year-old. Selfies do not expose raw self-expression that the self-portraits do, but instead promote a fake happiness; you may post a photo taken a few days ago when you had access to the right lighting and a good mascara, when you currently feel like hungover as shit, resisting the urge to suddenly throw up all over your friendly neighbour on the metro.
One of the selfies exhibited is of Obama and Cameron at Mandala’s funeral. It physically pains me to criticise Obama, but I can’t help but think that the cheesy-grin pose demeans the human condition; it takes the attention away from where it should be, from grieving an incredible world leader, and instead promotes the triviality of leaders doing a ‘thumbs-up’.
Much like a selfie, which celebrities often use to endorse certain products, the exhibition itself is teamed up with the mobile brand Huawei. There is to be a #SaatchiSelfie competition where the winner receives a Huawei phone: when did galleries become as materialistic as Kim Kardashian? Let’s leave the selfies at home, and with it our jealousy of Kim’s round bum, and actually enjoy the process of looking at pieces of self-expression that reveal the emotions of the artist.