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Are Selfies and Self-Portraits and Headshots Art?

Isi has been an artist since childhood, has taken college level courses in art, and has been president of a local co-op art gallery.

Portraits, Self-Portraits, and Selfies

Leonardo Da Vinci, 1507

Leonardo Da Vinci, 1507

How Are Portraits, Self-Portraits, Selfies, and Headshots Different?

Portraiture is an art form that has been around for centuries. People have always been fascinated with images of other people and of themselves. The ancient Greeks were so obsessed with the human form that they developed mathematical processes for depicting the most perfect human figures. Leaders throughout time have spent massive amounts of money ensuring that their likenesses were attractively presented.

The most famous portrait is the Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo Da Vinci in 1507. It has intrigued people for centuries because of the direct gaze of the subject, her half-smiling expression, the softness of her appearance, and the curious elements of the painting. The portrait is compelling and relatable, beautiful and mysterious. Since the painting of the subject was created by another person, the artist, it is classified as a portrait. As such, the painter’s intent and viewpoint are portrayed as well as the subject. This may or may not be what the subject would have wanted to express.

Self-portraits are paintings of an artist created by the artist himself, or herself. In self portraiture, artists can put any kind of spin on the portrait they desire. They may use props, color schemes, styles, and techniques to express emotion or status, connection with a theme, or simplicity. Some artists create many self-portraits, showing different sides of their personality at different points in their career or life. One of the most famous self-portraits is that of Vincent Van Gogh in 1889, the last one he created before his suicide. In it, his expression is somber and distressed, and the swirling background seems to mirror the intensity of his emotional state.

Selfies are a more modern contrivance, and are something like self-portraits, only they are photographs taken with digital cameras. Filters can be added to enhance the appearance of the subject, and many people get very creative with their selfies. There are even a number of selfie museums in the U.S. where people can go to star in their own masterpieces. Props and endlessly creative backgrounds are available for people to use, making it a fun and educational experience for all ages.

Headshots are more like portraits, because they are usually taken by someone else. They are usually not very creatively done, and are mostly used by people for identification purposes. They can even be bland and rather boring, as many people seem to be very self-conscious about having headshots made.

Self-Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh

Self-Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh

Self-Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh

Are Selfies Artistic?

Selfie Girl Silhouette

Selfie Girl Silhouette

Are Selfies As Artistic As Self-Portraits?

The famous self-portraits of artists of days gone by depict their subjects in very personally revealing ways. Some show their vulnerabilities, heartbreak, or overinflated ideas about themselves. Others show the artist‘s best self or how she might appear in her everyday life. One might depict the artist as he sees himself in the fires of hell, while another might paint herself in the act of painting. Color schemes might range from very bright to very dark tones. In these self-portraits, artists can freely express their feelings about themselves, or present themselves in an idealistic way. They might also be seeking to make a connection with the viewer in an honest portrayal.

Many selfies are taken with hardly any thought as to how they will be perceived by anyone other than the person’s inner circle of acquaintances. In this case, they can hardly be considered art, and are more of a snapshot taken for the sake of preserving a memory. People take selfies at restaurants and while on vacation, alone or in groups, and in any room of the house including the bedroom and bathroom. Some people do go to great lengths to create a vivid or expressive selfie, in much the same way that artists of the past took pains to create memorable self-portraits. In this case, a selfie can be very artistic.

How To Take A Great Selfie

Colorado Birch Trees in Fall

Colorado Birch Trees in Fall

How Can I Take A Great Selfie Or Headshot?

Taking a great selfie or headshot might be important to you for a number of reasons. You might need a headshot for business purposes, such as a directory or ID badge. You might need it for a business social media platform such as LinkedIn. Selfies can sometimes make good headshots, if you take them from the right angle. A great selfie might be important if you were going to use it to impress someone or to represent yourself on a blog, social media, or other platform.

A headshot is a more formal picture and in some cases there are specific criteria that have to be met, such as having the shoulders included, and wearing business-appropriate clothing. Depending on the purpose, you might want to have a serious look on your face, rather than a smile. For example if you were to need a headshot because you worked in a bank, you would want a plain background, and conservative attire. Your headshot might be used to make an ID badge, so you would want your face to look the way you do as you are going about your business. You might have a slight smile, or if you are a very happy person a big smile. The important thing with a headshot is to relax and present yourself as confidently and naturally as possible.

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A selfie is a more personal photo, and usually not used for a headshot. But if you need to take a selfie for a headshot, be sure to include your shoulders in the shot. Using a timer on your camera can help with this. Take a few shots to practice and make sure you have your distance and lighting correct, and the background as uncluttered as possible. There are some things you will be able to edit out simply by cropping but you will want to make sure it doesn’t look like your house was just ransacked by robbers.

For a selfie that is going on social media or to be used for promotional purposes, you will also want to carefully check your background. Give some thought to the things that are around you. Make sure it doesn’t look like that plant is growing out of the top of your head, or those dirty dishes in the sink don’t give the impression that you haven’t washed them in three days.

Get creative and find a nice background that isn’t going to interfere with the subject of the photo - you. Find some props that will let people know a little more about you or about how you are feeling that day. If it is a lazy Sunday, you might want to be in your pajamas and fuzzy slippers, or if you are out enjoying some sight-seeing, you might want to have the Eiffel Tower in the background, rather than another tourist or a bus.

Just taking a few minutes to think about what is going on around you can help you find the right lighting, angle, background, and prop to make a really great selfie. If you gave it some thought, and a little more time, you might even make a very artistic selfie that could become famous.

In the selfie above, I used a timer and included the background because I was in Colorado sight-seeing in fall and wanted to share how beautiful the scenery was.

Selfies, Self-Portraits, and Portraits - Artistic or No?

Now that you know a little more about the differences between portraits, self-portraits, and selfies, you can decide for yourself whether or not they are artistic. One of the tests I use to determine if something is artistic is whether or not it was created intentionally. Did the artist put some thought into the finished product?

Have you ever made a very artistic selfie or a self-portrait? Tell me about it in the comments section!


Isibane Bergen (author) from Western North Carolina on October 21, 2020:

Thanks for the follow and the comment divacratus! I’m glad you think so too. I have seen some pretty bad selfies and some very creative selfies.

Kalpana Iyer from India on October 15, 2020:

That's a well-clicked selfie! I do think it is an art. To have a concept in mind, and then executing it as per your vision.

As someone who has used her phone camera timer a lot of times, it's not easy at all to get that perfect shot.

Danny from India on October 15, 2020:

Self-portraits define the real essence of the personality wherein you try to look at your real self.

In my view, they are artworks as every image confers a special value in itself.

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