by Bergen Eppers
From Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook or any social media sites, we are all engulfed in selfies. Sending an image of us to the world, we can change the way they view us, with new filters, lighting, or angles, showing different personas of ourselves. Selfies may be all the rage now, but self-portraiture was used by artists before they could see their reflections. It remained the status quo of the eighteenth century, sharing artists’ different interpretations, but soon cameras came into play. Some cast aside their brushes, pencils, and paper and rushed to get a camera for easier captivity. Cameras got cheaper, polaroids were preferred more, “and, suddenly, Kim Kardashian-West is selling thousands of copies of Selfish, her 448-page book of selfies,” says Amanda Dee.
Displayed in the Dayton Art Institute until Oct. 30, 2016, a gallery of self-portraiture can be viewed by guests. Just like selfies, self-portraiture can have a positive impact on our body image and self- confidence, but it can make us narcissistic. Kehinde Wiley was an artist who didn’t really focus on these categories, but turned the focus from high society onto the low class, sharing the personality of those we see but don’t really notice. “Especially with the Wiley,” Ryckman Siegwarth says. “He’s really analyzing and critiquing the construction of identity and social status. And so, with Snapchat and selfies, those people with duck faces, they are creating a very specific idea of themselves and sending it out to the world, and that is something we should all really consider – how we’re framing ourselves and what identities we’re suggesting to others.”
Wiley describes portraiture as a “choice.” He strives to show through his work for people to control their body image, make a decision of how they want society to view them. Even in the vanity century, artists portraits suggest the truths of who we are or who we want to be still ring. People may walk through and ask questions such as, “Do portraits present mirrors of the society in which the subject participates and thus reflect something unique about that individual? Or are they simply masks that a person wears in an effort to project what they feel society wishes to see? Do they function as both mirror and mask at the same time? What do you see when you look into a mirror? Do you feel it is an accurate representation of self, or is there something hidden underneath?” (Dayton Art Institute). Portraits demonstrate how artists and people of different times and cultures struggle with body and person representation.