On selfies vs self portraits

“What’s the difference between a selfie and a self portrait?
An artist.”

Can you elaborate a bit more? I’m teaching a class on a short history of self-portraits (especially focusing on the artists’ psychological self-representation) to high school kids and touching on selfies as a point of discussion. I’d love to learn more about your opinion/in which direction it’d be interesting to lead the discussion.

Okay, sure. If one of your students whips out her camera phone and takes a picture of herself for the sake of taking a picture of herself, that’s nothing more than a selfie.

Now, if that very same student whips out her camera phone and takes an identical picture of herself, but she does it for the sake of almost any other aesthetic purpose, then she can be considered an artist creating a self portrait.

The quality of the image isn’t what’s important, but rather the aesthetic intent of the person creating the image. A self portrait is art. (Not necessarily good art, but art nonetheless.) At best, a selfie is craft, and that’s the fundamental distinction I’m making here.

The difference between craft and art is the difference between how and why. The how is obvious, but if your student can’t answer why she’s taking a picture of herself in a manner that isn’t self-referential, then she probably hasn’t earned the right to call it a self portrait.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *