THANK GOODNESS I DON’T HAVE TO CALL GREAT ART PORTRAITS “SELFIES” ANYMORE
The selfie was the great silliness of our time, the trainspotting of the techno age. So take them if you dare – the world is laughing at you.
Remember selfies? They became a global cultural obsession in 2012, when TIME MAGAZINE made selfie one of its top 10 buzzwords of the year. For a while, it seemed the selfie was the pop art of the future. Everyone, from teenagers to prime ministers, was taking them, everywhere. The invention of the selfie stick turned the taking of selfies into an even stranger performance.
Then, by the end of 2015, selfies slunk back into the subcultural margins. People still took them, but with an embarrassed shrug. There was no longer anything cool about inanely grinning into your own camera. Selfie sticks were banned in many places, and sneered at everywhere. Time magazine declared the trend over with its RIP Selfie cover.
Will we really be writing obituaries for the selfie by the end of 2015? I hope so. There are real signs that fashion is turning against this gleefully superficial perversion of portraiture.
Prince harry called time on the selfie craze this week. When a teenager asked him to pose for one with her in Australia he replied: “No, I hate selfies … I know you’re young, but selfies are bad. Just take a normal photograph.”
Good for Harry – it’s time more people spoke out against this great silliness of our time. The royal repudiation of the selfie followed hot on the heels of a powerful attack by the great historian Simon Schauma. Launching what sounds like a fascinating project about the British portrait, Schama ridiculed the idea that the “quick dumbness” of selfies has anything in common with the true art of portraiture. “What we love about selfies and phones is that it’s of the moment,” he said, “but the true object of art is endurance.”
I agree. It is depressing that we’ve turned self-portraiture, the most intense, worrying and neurotic of arts, into a big collective joke. Anyone who can look at their face without anxiety is not looking at their face. The self portrait for Van Gogh and Picasso was a thing of fear and dread: we’ve taken that dread and airbrushed it out of existence. Selfies deny and erase a fundamental human self-consciousness. We are in danger of losing our sense of awkwardness, embarrassment, of being an individual. The selfie is actually an attack on the moral self.
The widespread delusion that selfies have anything in common with real portraits – that when Rembrandt painted his own image he was somehow daubing a “selfie” – is a tragic attempt to reduce the most profound human experiences to total banality.
I applaud Schama and Harry for their denunciations of this idiotic travesty of the human image. And I suspect they have chosen their moments well. Selfie-takers – partly because of the absurd selfie stick – are starting to stand out from the crowd. Obsessive selfie enthusiasm will soon be seen as the trainspotting of the techno age. Let’s stigmatise it further. Take selfies if you dare – the world is laughing at you.