Self Portraits

Selfies are a scam. As a master manipulator who listens to covers of “The Rainbow Connection” and believes everything can mean anything, you can trust me. The word “selfie” is an unnecessary addition to our culture's addiction to patronization and labeling. While shredding the slopes of ~ Dictionary Dot Com Mountain~ I was overwhelmed, underwhelmed then over being whelmed by definitions that made me remember not to trust anyone ever.

The definition of a selfie is “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media,” while the definition of self portrait is “a portrait of an artist produced or created by that artist.” This is the part of the story where I went into squinty eye skeptic mode; the best mode for detecting scams.

Why is it that the one who paints a self portrait is called an “artist” while the one who takes a selfie is not? The way the human race breathes, breaks, repairs, creates and bends is enough to put us all in the category of artists or even art ourselves. The expressions we wear and choose to capture explain how we view not only ourselves but the world around us. This is the part of the story where I went into tilted head mode; the second best mode for detecting scams.

I knew it was getting icy on the slopes of ~ Dictionary Dot Com Mountain~ when I read the definition for the word portrait. What really makes a selfie and a self portrait different? Maybe it is the technicality of the wording? Maybe not? I still don’t trust anything.

The definition of portrait is “a painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulders.” Read that again. If paintings and photographs both equal portrait while artist and one both equal human then it can be argued that selfie and self portrait are synonymous. The term selfie can have petty connotations and tones of narcissism while self portrait is a revered piece of artwork. This is when I went into head-in-pillow mode; the third and final mode after you have successfully detected a scam.

Our Instagrammed self portraits may never hang next to Van Gogh’s or sit snuggled in a box next to Vivian Maier’s. Likes and comments may not feel as validating as a spot in the MoMA and that makes perfect sense. While their portraits are mounted and collected, ours are circulated and virtual. There are obvious distinctions, however, isn’t it true that Maier and Van Gogh did exactly what we are doing with selfies now? They too created images intended for both personality and product. Their wrinkles, noses, and faces are not so different from our own and help us understand who they are. The act of a selfie is one of raw bravery. It screams that “this is me, this is how I see the world, and I will take up my space,” and that in itself is a work of art.

This may make art snobs and espresso drinkers mad but that’s okay. This piece is for the dot connectors; magicians who interpret things like bullshit and laugh lines. I know who you guys are. Your right brain is the most stunning it has been since your creative peak in ‘99 and chic people with chic dreams are listening to you. You notice the way a person’s teeth fit while they laugh-cry because it makes you understand why they only photograph sidewalk cracks. You believe the individual is just as precious as the product. You find meaning in pupils, smirks, and acne. You function like a string of lights. You are brave for the self portraits on your Instagram feed. You are amazing.

Text by Jenny Griffin

Illustration by Lauren Goldstein