10 Artists Weigh in on the Art Selfie

Bonefurandfeathers's selfie at Kara Walker's A Subtlety at the former Domino Sugar Refinery, May 2014. Courtesy of bonefurandfeathers via Instagram and Creative Time. Photo: bonefurandfeathers via Instagram

The debate over art selfies has escalated to hilarious new heights this year. Jay Z and Beyoncé's publicity shot at the Louvre almost reduced the Mona Lisa to wallpaper. And DIS published a whole book of the popular #artselfie hashtag from Instagram. Which has us wondering: Will selfies ultimately prove the biggest boost to museum attendance ever? Does "being seen with the artworks count as much, if not more, than the work," as the New York Times suggested in its official trend piece on the matter? Did white people's selfies make a mockery of Kara Walker's sugar sphinx? It's hard to say, but Walker herself seemed fairly unfazed. Which is why we decided to go to ask artists what they really think about people taking selfies with their work. Here's what ten had to say.

“Was it John Berger or Susan Sontag who observed that the camera (a memory device), ironically, allows us to forget. So what is forgotten when the selfie is taken? I think it reduces the whole world to a non-experience.”

“I look at Instagram quite a lot. I’m happy to see people photographing my work, with with or without themselves in the picture. There’s something about including themselves that suggests pilgrimage, like taking a picture of yourself in front of a recognizable landmark as proof that you were there. I appreciate and understand that.” 

“I find this whole selfie rage so stupid ... The desire of tourists to stand in front of things and buildings or whatever, and send pictures home, is as old as ever. It is really childish, but harmless.”

“Part of sculpture’s core purpose is to remind us of time: Sculpture is lived time inscribed in geological time. There is the time of making, the time of seeing, and the time of remembering: Selfies relate to the last two.”

“Picasso and Dalí would have turned the camera on themselves more often had it been as easy as today. In the past, we've all taken self portraits; there simply wasn't a way to make them so readily public.”

“It is always wonderful to know someone else other than myself is connecting to my work.”  

“I love seeing people interact with my work, and yes, I look at #marilynminter on Instagram … I asked someone working [at the Domino show] to take a picture of me in front of the Sugar Sphinx. I raised a fistful of sugar to let it fall through my hands like a stream. When I looked at what I thought was a perfectly innocent iPhone picture, it just looked incredibly lewd (just by accident), so I never posted it.” 

“I can't recall ever having seen a selfie with my work ...”

“I'm not sure if it is possible to make a respectful selfie. I've seen dignified selfies that are funny. I prefer the irreverent, narcissistic selfie. It is just better. To me, the selfie is a very natural thing to do; if horses had cameras, they probably would take selfies, too.”

“I watched people taking lewd, and non-lewd, selfies at the Kara Walker piece — I couldn't help associating that with race and gender, naturally, particularly the lewd ones. In a way, it added a nuance to the whole work, a piece I found I overwhelmingly moving. On the front, often-white youth posed happily under her watchful gaze; in the back, boys stuck out their tongues in a mimicry of the assaults on black women's bodies.”