Self portraits and Selfies


Capturing self appearance has been an obsession for many artists over centuries, much like today’s smart phone version of self portrait- ‘selfie’. This trend cannot be simply dismissed as narcissism, surpassing that, both are personal statements made by the subject cum creator, the purpose being to visually convey who the maker aspires to be.

However there are notable differences’ between the two, for an artist, self portraits are intimate in nature, its self- scrutiny while a selfie is a self-expression. The difference is inner psychological exploration and outer appearance.  Self portraits are artistic documentation made over time, a visual memoir that records an artist’s individuality and progress in any specific affair. Evolving creative skills, aging process, professional progress, personal maturity or life’s augmenting layers in general. Most remarkable visual diary is that of Rembrandt’s, who made 60 self portraits in his life time. There is a lot of analytical study and thought hooked onto the composition and the message it has to convey. The intention is to make it self-reflective without any factual constraints and at the same aesthetically striking. On the other hand, selfie’s are quick, casual and mostly quirky snapshots of moments recorded informally. They are public and to a certain level self promotional in nature, circulated across the cosmic galaxy of internet, typically shared on social networking. They summarize the snappers dialogue narration in one single image, it’s a crafty trick not successfully achieved by all selfies. The aesthetic appeal is not as important as the message. A powerful selfie expresses what one wants to convey to the world, condense in one picture.

Amrita Sher-Gil fondly known as the Frida Kahlo of India has the most incredible visual dairy of self portraits. Sher-Gil in her early teenage is said to have drawn a series of self-portraits. Had her life not been cut tragically short she would have loved the millennial rage of selfie’s. She was her favourite muse, echoing the spirit of selfie.

Amrita Sher Gill self-portrait
Amrita Sher-Gil- 'Self-portraits' 1932 and 1930

Another interesting set of self portraits are that of Deepti Naval’s, her collection is powerful and marvelously meaningful. “I think I’m best at self portraits and I paint the faces hard, lonely and morbid. They are hard because they reflect what goes on in my head” she quotes on her website (www.deeptinaval.com) explaining why she makes self portraits the most. Her eloquent self-portraits are genuine and honest without any realistic limitations. Resonating similar concept, selfie’s purpose is also mostly to share an emotion, capture something significant or to gain a connection with the viewers however with the intention of receiving only positive response.


In short, making a good portrait with exact likeness of oneself (realistically or conceptually) is artistry while snapping a good selfie that speaks volumes is dexterity.



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