Do Selfies Help Us Feel More Engaged With The Arts?

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Rapper Eminem snaps a selfie at the Louvre

Apparently there’s a new trend sweeping galleries across the world: The Art Selfie. From London to New York, visitors to major arts tourist traps are seizing the opportunity to make self-portraits of their own.

It seems that this trend has mainly been sparked by institutions such as the National Gallery dropping their policy of banning photography, claiming that it was getting too difficult to police who might be sneakily snapping pictures on their smartphones.

Shortly after the lifting of this ban, Arts Council Chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette gained a lot of attention in the press when he called for art galleries to introduce a selfie ban for an hour a day so that visitors could enjoy what might be considered a more traditional cultural experience.

Although Bazalgette was referring more to the general use of photography within art galleries, the use of the term ‘selfie’ reveals the greater concerns about just the types of pictures visitors will be taking. As one Guardian Journalist puts it:

‘The more pressing anxiety is over the sheer sorry state of human nature. Nobody’s just going to take a picture of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, are they? They’re going to take a selfie, standing in front of it.’

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Narcissus reflects on why only three people liked his latest Instagram post

Selfies have had a rather bad rep within the mass media media since their introduction into the public lexicon a few years back. They’re predominantly associated with teenage girls, who many would argue are already a heavily marginalised group within popular culture. Those who take selfies are presented as shallow narcissists who are more concerned with their online social media presence than engaging with their current offline surroundings.

But can selfies actually make us feel more engaged with art?

The VanGoYourself project encourages people to ‘recreate artworks with your friends’ and share them on social media. The website allows you to browse a range of images that constitute much of the well known canon of visual art, from Leonardo’s da Vinci’s The Last Supper to the self-portraits of Van Gogh, alongside the homemade reconstructions submitted by users.

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The project was the brainchild of Culture24, an independent company seeking to connect audiences with the arts and culture in innovative new ways. Their other projects include the successful Museums at Night festival, which staged a number of after hours events at arts and cultural institutions across the country and was also the subject of an hour-long BBC Two documentary.

The inspiration behind initiatives such as VanGoYourself is primarily based around the idea of changing the way people think about and relate to the visual arts. This hands-on approach is in stark contrast to the way we’re used to engaging with the great works of our culture that hang on the walls of galleries, under the watchful eye of numerous attendants and CCTV.

Whether it’s you and your friends recreating The Last Supper or a snap in front of your favourite Rembrandt, sharing these user-created images on social media weaves the often-elusive art world more into the fabric of our everyday lives. Although broadcasting originally served to bring the arts into the homes of the masses, there still seems to be that disconnect between what is presented on screen and our own experiences of culture. If broadcasters want to grow their audiences for the arts they perhaps need to look towards more interactive approaches that encourage participation rather than just observation.

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