What is a Selfie?

Most dictionaries connect selfies with photos of oneself, ie. the self-portrait, however, the definition also specifies the camera more likely being a smartphone and the action of posting and sharing the photo in social media like Instagram and Facebook is an important part of it, making the selfie a truly postmodern art form that is revolutionary in defying the old high vs. low definition of art forms.

Back before the Internet there was a divide between “high” art, usuly conceived of as a kind of serious fine art that would be seen as important to art history, seen in museums and usually worth a certain amount of money versus “low art” which was seen as not seriously following the course if Western art history and not being seen as “real” or serious art, like street graffiti, comic books, zones, outsider art and other art that did not confirm to the confines of higher art. Casual photography would be included. Andy Warhol and other pop artists were instrumental in redefining this split and challenging this snobby dichotomy, making room for the Jeuth Herrings and Basquiats of this world to become rich and famous and for comics to finally be taken seriously, especially the manga and graphic novel form.

Without all this, the selfie could not have been born, although the selfie is in a much later “wave” of post postmodern art that would not exist without the Internet.

Inherent to the selfie is the “publishing” of it in social media. Social media is the current most democratic arena for the growth of art. Many artists like myself participate in the use of social media to “show” our art work, and by participating in showing our work on sites like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, are proclaiming that galleries are the showcases of the past, the art world that focuses on exclusion as a way to promote a tiny minority of artists at the expense of the vast majority of working professional artists like me.

So the selfie can only help us artists who feel excluded from the mainstream art world, run not by artists but by insiders– museums, art historians, gallery owners and auction houses like Sotheby’s.

The selfie goes further as it is anti-artist. As anybody with a smart phone can make a selfie, everyone is a potential selfie artist. The selfie also is not framed as an image that is evaluated as bring “art” or not, which further challenges our ideas about the creative act. There is a curious link between the concept of the selfie and “tribal” and “craft” art form in that art used to be made by people in a tribe for some usually communal spiritual purpose or in early craft and folk art by women ms not seen as done by an individual artist. Ironically the selfie must be taken by one individual by him or her self but it universalizes the ability to make image in a similar way to folk art as both operate from the premise that a hierarchy of ability and talent are non existent and irrelevant.

As a kind of “outsider” artist and art therapist, I operate daily from the subversive ideas that anyone can make interesting imAges and we are all as humans inherently creative beings and artists as well as viewing mental illness as a catalyst for the creative spirit, so I see the selfie as a very positive art form that is irreverent, subversive and has a “great” fuck you attitude about art forms.

For this reason, dialogues like the one I found in Facebook and quoted in my last Selfie post, amuse me and are viewed as an important part of the subversive selfie process.

The selfie is inherently feminist, as women who gaze upon themselves and take photos of their body parts or so called sexy self portraits are turning the male gaze on its side by proclaiming, look at me. I can choose to take photos of my own body and show all you males that I own my own body and when I take a selfie it is immediately empowering me and taking away your power to objectify me!

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