Big news this week. Earth shattering, even. The Oxford English Dictionary, a long-standing pillar of lingual excellence, has named seflie the word of the year. And then I cried. And here's why:
To those of us archaic enough to use whole words in dazzling combinations to describe the world around us, there was already an existing phrase for recording ones own image. It was called a self portrait. It's been a called a self portrait for centuries. We had that covered. But, apparently, once you supply millions of people with smart phones, it needs a new word. With fewer characters. And this brings me to my second point.
Paul McCartney did not invent the selfie. Neither did Kim Kardashian. Or Ashton Kutcher. In fact, the selfie has been around since...well, since art has been around. Though we can't be certain, a good argument could be made that the simple human form represented in the cave paintings at Lascaux is, in all likely-hood, a selfie. Maybe that's a stretch, but you see my point: it's not exactly new.
Great artists throughout history have created self portraits. So have a whole host of lesser artists. They litter the walls of galleries and museums the world over. And regardless of the medium used to create them, they were called self portraits. While the duck-face is an interesting new addition to the genre and may merit some choice words of it's own, an entirely new genre it does not make. Neither does the fact that people are using a smart phones or digital cameras to record their self portrait. They are still self portraits. Mostly badly planned and poorly executed self portraits, but self portraits none the less. Am I just being persnickety about this? Yes, probably. Okay, definitely yes, but I have my reasons.
The underlying implication is that digital art is somehow different than other media, less artistic in a way. And this bothers me. While it may be more prevalently used than say watercolor or sculpture, this does not make it less valid. Just because more people choose to be mediocre practitioners of the form should not denigrate the entire medium. If we all started making really bad oil paintings would we start to think less of Rembrandt and Vermeer? Would we start calling them "paintsies" instead of paintings? I hope not. But I'm less sure about that than I once was. It's important to recognize that it's not the tools that make the art, but rather the artist, good or bad, using those tools. Great digital art is still far more about concept and technique and delivery than the 1's and 0's that give it life.
None of this is to say that the Oxford English Dictionary is at fault. By reporting the 17,000% increase in the use of the word over the last year, OED is merely the messenger bringing us the tragic news of our own downward spiral. The one silver lining, I suppose, is that selfie beat out twerk for word of the year. But not by much. We're doomed.
This vaguely photography related rant was brought to you by caffeine and the letter S.