What we talk about when we talk about selfies
Introducing a new series, in whicheditors Sean Redmond and Alyssa G. Ramirez get drunk at their respective apartments and discuss things happening in the art world. This week (or last week, as it happened), we tackled Jerry Saltz's latest article on Kim Kardashian and contemplated the art of the selfie.
Sean: I'm watching the video to "Bound 2"Sean: I kind of like this songSean: but why is Kim in this video? Alyssa: Kim is in that video because Kanye loves her more than anything in the world, and their love is beautiful Sean: I wish Saltz had termed this phenomenon the "New Absurdity"Sean: because the "New Uncanny" is stupidSean: you know what is the New Uncanny?Sean: PC MusicSean: Hannah DiamondSean: that's the New Uncanny Alyssa: I think that Saltz missteps when he calls Kanye uncannyAlyssa: I mean, this is his definition of the New Uncanny: "The New Uncanny is un-self-consciousness filtered through hyper-self-consciousness, unprocessed absurdity, grandiosity of desire, and fantastic self-regard." Alyssa: fair enough, Kanye fits that, but the actual definition of uncanny is just that it's unsettling? and I'm not sure what's so unsettling about Kanye West Sean: but uncanny also has to be unsettling in a way that flirts with the border between reality and alternate reality Alyssa: so, Kim Kardashian's lack of nipples in the video for "Bound 2" is definitely uncanny Sean: hahaSean: yes, that is maybe the only thing Saltz says that is trueSean: her nipple-less boobs are uncannySean: I don't know if they're a "new" uncanny
Still from Kanye West's "Bound 2"
Sean: Saltz talks about Kim and Andy Warhol as similar "artists," and I just don't know if I see it. I don't know if I'm ready to bite Sean: I can see, say, Takashi Murakami and Andy Warhol being of the same moldSean: both are artists, both built up a "brand" of themselves and were unafraid to exploit that to further their artistic reputationsSean: Warhol's was always more tongue-in-cheek, and I think that's why he'll always be more respected. Is Kim's tongue-in-cheek? Is Kim making any kind of statement or doing anything new? Alyssa: so, okay, I just have to say real quick: Jerry Saltz's tone in this whole piece really reminded me of something
[video width="1280" height="720" mp4="http://www.fieldsmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/isartart.mp4"][/video]
Sean: hahahaSean: I love that you could just whip that out Alyssa: so, I think there are two issues here for meAlyssa: the first is: why do we discount a book of selected photographs of a subject as "art," just because they're selfies?Alyssa: and the second is: why do we discount Kim Kardashian as a creator? Sean: the answer to both of those things lies in the idea that there must be some sort of skill involved, I thinkSean: some indication of thought, and time and attention Alyssa: that's validAlyssa: but but but: Saltz writes about the actual technique (read: skill, time, attention) behind selfies: "She started taking selfies in the mid-1980s with pre-digital cameras, and many of the genre's formal earmarks are already present in her pictures: the odd angles, arm holding the camera visible, peeks behind scenes, the fish-eyed distortion in the depth of field, the urge to create reality by documenting it."Alyssa: "many of the genre's formal earmarks" Sean: I thought of that, but that's not skill!Sean: ugh, since when is "selfie-taking" a GENRESean: a genre of what? Alyssa: why isn't it skill? why aren't selfies a genre?! Sean: is Kim the only artist working in the medium?! Alyssa: hahahahaha Alyssa:no, obviously not Sean: who else is! Alyssa: have you ever been on instagram Alyssa: like, ever
Sean: odd angles, arm holding the camera visible Sean: are you kidding me?these are just hallmarks of amateur photographySean: next you'll tell me the thumb in the image is a "hallmark of the genre"Sean: or the bathroom mirror Alyssa: I would NEVER say thatAlyssa:I would say the bathroom mirror is, but not the thumb Sean: you think Kim's arm in the photo was done knowingly, as an artistic statement?Sean:you're right, she could have set a timer, set the camera up across the roomSean: but I really don't think soSean: I don't think it was that thought out Alyssa: I really, really doAlyssa: I have evidence Sean: "oh, I'm going to include my arm in here so I can set the parameters of a new artistic genre" Alyssa: this is embarrassingAlyssa: it's personal Sean: haha, great Alyssa: I am a prolific selfie taker Alyssa: I am incredibly vain Sean: aren't we all? Sean: that's why everyone loves Kim Kardashian Alyssa: both of my most recent Facebook pictures are selfies in which I didn't have to crop out an arm, because I have perfected the art of taking pictures of myself WITHOUT my arm in the frameAlyssa: well really the techniqueAlyssa: so I guess what I'm saying is that when I take a selfie, I definitely think of compositionAlyssa: I definitely think of what I want in the frame Sean: yes but see, taking the arm out is more difficult! it requires skill and technique Alyssa: but but but, this is where intent comes in Sean: you can't prove that that's informed artistic intent Alyssa: you're right, I can'tAlyssa: but I know that my intent is to disguise that nice pictures of me are selfies that took time to produceAlyssa: I think that Kim Kardashian, who has built a brand on self-absorption, does intend to broadcast that her pictures of herself are selfies Sean: even if she did, does that make it art? does self-objectification make you an artist? Alyssa: tell me what doesn't make it art Sean: what does make it art? I mean, every person taking a selfie puts thought into the selfieSean: is everyone an artist? is Kim any better than anyone else who has ever taken one? Alyssa: I think anyone who creates art is an artistAlyssa:I think that Kim is better at taking selfies than a lot of people who take selfies Sean: yes, but I don't think taking a selfie, in itself, is artSean: and I don't think turning yourself into a brand is art so I don't see how doing the two together make you an artistSean: I don't think she isSean: anyone can take a selfieSean: maybe she has a better camera
Is it art? You decide!
Alyssa: anyone can paintAlyssa: anyone can draw Sean: not anyone can paint with the quality that we consider noteworthy painters to haveSean: or, more importantly, if we're talking about art in the last century, not everyone can express ideas through their work the way the best painters canSean: what ideas is Kim presenting with her selfies?Sean:that aren't present IN EVERY OTHER SELFIE EVER Alyssa: let's say a person with a day job paints on the weekendsAlyssa: is what she creates art? Sean: yes, sure Alyssa: so how do selfies differ? Sean: ok, even if we say selfies are artSean: I refer you to the point that I made above in all capsSean: what ideas is she expressing that are different than any other selfie-taker ever? what makes it noteworthy? Alyssa: all right Alyssa: from what I know (disclaimer), I don't think she's expressing anything different or noteworthy Sean: checkmate Alyssa:¯\_(ツ)_/¯Alyssa: but I maintain that she's an artist Sean: so we're saying she's an artist but she's a bad artist Sean: but she's really good at self-branding! Sean: I don't think we've seen anyone who's really impressed upon me the possibilities of the selfie as an art form Sean: and maybe we never will, because I concede that it is an art form in the most technical sense Sean: self-portraits via photography, sure, but I haven't seen anyone do anything interesting with it Alyssa: relevant: http://jezebel.com/this-artist-could-be-selling-your-instagram-pics-for-9-1706388257
Richard Prince's Instagram-appropriated artwork. Image appears courtesy of Inquisitr.
Sean: ugh, Richard Prince?that is depressing Sean: Richard Prince is, first and foremost, a provocateurSean:so this is fitting, but it still irks me because it's just bullshit and it's not interestingSean: who wants a fucking blown-up Instagram photo on their wallSean: telling me "Instagram is ~art~" is a vapid statement Alyssa: so someone bought one of those pictures for $90,000 and presumably hung it up in his homeAlyssa: is that art? Sean: is it art? you know, I don't know at this pointSean: I mean, you put anything on the walland it's artSean: putting it on the wall makes it artSean: is it good art? I don't think so Alyssa: but also, the picture itself, that some teenage girl took: is that art? i.e., is she an artist? Sean: noSean: I mean, unless she sold it to Richard Prince, which she didn'tSean: or maybe if she printed out a screenshot and put it on her wall Alyssa: but it's a self-portrait that she took with a camera Sean: ok,you're right, she is an artist in the most basic sense Sean: is all photography art though? I don't know, maybe I've got it wrongSean:are my family's home videos art? Alyssa: I mean, I think it does ultimately come down to intent, and like you said before, you can't speak to intentAlyssa: but I think there is good art and bad art, and there is amateur art and professional art, and it's all a spectrumAlyssa: I think Kim Kardashian's acceptance in the art world is actually much more interesting than whether she is a good artist or a bad artist Sean: yes, I suppose it goes back to the bandwagon thingSean: maybe the takeaway is we can't trust the person driving the wagon ; )