Art and Self
You Probably Think This Art Is About You

How selfie-taking reconfigures our relationship to art.

Published on: August 16, 2017
Carolyn Stewart is the press secretary of the Hudson Institute. The views contained in this article are her own.
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  • FriendlyGoat

    No social media and no selfies works well for old people. Or, maybe it’s just that being an old person now works better than being a younger person altogether.

    • Curious Mayhem

      These newfangled devices leave me confused 🙂

      • FriendlyGoat

        I’ve decided to live with my flip phone forever. Warren Buffett does, after all and he’s a smarter guy than me, no?

        • Curious Mayhem

          Buffett is smarter than all of us and will soon be communicating with us from beyond the grave.

    • Alvin

      I’m with you, FriendlyGoat. I’m in my late fifties, with a semi-technical job and reasonably up-to-date computer skills. I am not “confused by newfangled devices” (a charge that’s sometimes leveled against naysayers), but I am thoroughly dismayed and unimpressed by the smartphone/social media “revolution.” A few thoughts:

      1) I dislike the ascendancy of phone tech and social media (and their associated data hoard) as an ever-more-efficient means of driving consumer desire and selling us more crap–and not just a lot of dumb products we don’t need: think political candidates. I’m as happy with capitalism as the next guy, but at my age I’ve had enough ads shoved down my throat to last me the rest of my life; I put up with them when I have to, but I’m not interested in paying for the privilege of carrying around a smarter, more-targeted ad pipe.

      2) I don’t need the added distraction. I’m at the computer 8 hours a day or more for work, and I know the powerful pull of the internet undertow. I don’t want to carry that source of distraction around with me the rest of the day. I have other things I want to do with my time.

      3) At this point, too, I’ve been a sideline observer long enough to see the effects of the smartphone/social media juggernaut on the people around me with a fairly objective eye, and what I see does NOT make me long to jump in.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Wow, thanks. I appreciate receiving what I think are smart, thoughtful comment replies——and you just made one. You are using the comment section as I try to do, as a place for introspection, to develop your real thoughts as you go, and with a numbered list (no less) which means there are several different angles to explore.

        Glad to hear from an older guy with sense. We are lacking those. Keep writing, please.

        • Alvin

          Thanks, FG. I don’t comment often, but this topic has been on my mind lately, and your comment was a good prompt. I certainly could have offered a longer list. And #3 needs a lengthy sub-list of its own.

          You allude to the difficulty of being a younger person these days; I agree completely. The technology boom is keeping them occupied, but beyond that it’s not doing them many favors. The Apocalypse Atlantic Monthly recently covered some of the uglier trends in a piece titled, with their usual restraint, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” It’s probably a bit over the top, but probably not by much.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I think you are right and it’s hard to find the brakes on this trend, let alone reverse gear. So you know, I’m 65, male, long-term married, retired now from accounting early in life and some later self-employment—-rather out of date, out of touch, perhaps. But I am grateful my young life was lived before camera-phones and social-media connectedness took over the lives of young people as a requirement on their self-esteem and their time.
            I simply cannot imagine living my teenage life of the 1960’s and early adult life at work in the 1970’s in this manner. The pressures are all intensified on every front.

            I was serious that I hope you keep writing in the comment sections—-for yourself and the rest of us.

          • Alvin

            With luck, today’s young people will at least learn to manage their relationship with technology, keep the world running, and salvage some kind of quality of life for themselves and their families.

            I’ve been happily married a long time myself, and I’m probably seven years or so from retirement. Each day, I feel more drawn to shut down the computer as early as possible and spend time restoring old furniture, making pottery, and taking long walks with my wife.

            I appreciate the friendly welcome.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Wishing you the best, especially that walking with wife business. It’s precious.

  • PeterK10

    For decades now, students of America’s leftist education system have been taught that each one of them is the equivalent of the Second Coming. Therefore, social media abounds with photos of cretins blocking renowned artworks, even natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and Old Faithful. After all, it’s all about Me, Me, Me, regardless of how drab and boring you may be.

    Why do you think they call it FACEbook?

  • ApathyNihilism

    This problem began well before the Internet and social media, selfie sticks and mobile I-devices: in the old days of analogue cameras. Already then people would rather ridiculously pose in front of every sort of artwork and monument. I agree this impoverishes the experience of the artwork for all.

    Why do they do this?

    Are they seeking greatness by association?

    Can they really take any pride in its beauty and existence? (Perhaps the creators of the work are the only ones justified in posing next to their work, but even there we might take a cue from the anonymous Medieval artists who refrained from signing their names to their magnificent works).

    Are they seeking to prove to doubters that “I was there” (as in “Losing My Edge”)?

  • durnt

    I just came to say I saw girls, in an effort to get the perfect selfie, were BACKING into the art at the Broad in LA. I could feel my heart skip a beat every time they took a step.

  • DKD

    I used to work as a security guard at a major American art museum, and I saw a lot of people look at a lot of art. I would dispute the notion this sort of self-centered approach to art is a primarily generational or technological issue. For example, at this museum is a beautiful medieval belt, encrusted with gold and enamel. It is an unusually long belt, about as long as its wearer was tall, so that after circling the waist it would drape down to the floor. It is an absolutely lovely piece. Almost every group that I saw passing by would stop long enough to make a fat joke and move on. Only a few– regardless of age or smartphone– stopped to examine the craftsmanship, the signage explaining why the belt was so long, or anything other than the chance to make the same joke. This would not be made any more or less frustrating if it were uploaded to Instagram. Likewise those visitors who, upon seeing a Picasso, say that that they themselves could do that, that all modern art is a fraud, and that they are the only ones who will say that the emperor has no clothes: they are equally obnoxious and narcissistic whether they are a Boomer speaking aloud to everyone in the gallery or a teen posting on Facebook. Social media may make this behavior far more visible, younger generations may be more likely to go online than speak aloud for the benefit of all around them, but people of all ages and classes are just as likely (or unlikely, to be fair) to go to a museum to indulge in the self-centered and incurious behavior that is behind selfie abuse.

    P.S. please like and retweet kthx #art #me

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