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The Art of Selfies

  • News Image
    Senior Sarah Kinney has used the social media platform Snapchat to send and receive more than 5,000 "selfies." For her senior art exhibit, she painted some of them and examined what they say about the image she wants to project to different people.
  • News Image
    Sarah Kinney discusses the paintings in her senior art exhibit titled "Selfies."
  • News Image
    This painting titled "Look! You can't even see them" is one of nine that Sarah Kinney painted for her senior art exhibit titled "Selfies."

Sarah Kinney’s senior exhibit combines art with her love of social media

When the photo sharing app Snapchat made its debut in 2011, senior art and Latin major Sarah Kinney said all her friends were using it, but she just “didn’t get it.”

But as more of her friends kept asking what her Snapchat “handle” was, she finally gave in and downloaded the application, which allows smartphone users to send and receive images for several brief seconds with the option of overlaying text and color before they disappear from view.

Once she started using Snapchat, Kinney was hooked. Since 2011, she has sent and received more than 5,000 “snaps” and has saved more than 300 of these pictures (Snapchat gives users the option to save photos before they send them).

In looking over the pictures she had saved, Kinney began noticing some trends. In the photos she sent to female friends, she wasn’t worried about how she looked and she didn’t proofread her responses. But in the photos that she sent to male friends, it was a different story. 

“I wanted them to think I was pretty and smart so they would keep chatting with me,” she said.

These different “versions of self” were what gave Kinney the idea for her senior art exhibition.  

When studying her collection of saved snaps through an academic lens, Kinney discovered that each “selfie” was meticulously and intentionally constructed to present a different version of herself, or as psychologist Carl Jung would say, a “different persona.” This process of regulated self-expression is thought to be a survival technique for moving through different social climates.

For her senior exhibit, Kinney painted nine oil on canvas self-portraits that were inspired by “selfies.” From a semi-nude mirror picture to a casual outfit of the day (ootd) photo, the portraits illustrate a small fraction of the personas Kinney has shared with others.

As people look at the paintings, Kinney said she hopes they will think about their own personas.

“Consciously and subconsciously we are crafting the person we want others to think we are,” she said.

Kinney’s exhibit also explores the notion of semiotics, or our relationship with words. Since our world-views are constructed by differing experiences, no two people will have the exact same reaction to or interpretation of a word. For example, the word ‘cat’ could mean something different to someone who is allergic to cats than it might to someone who isn’t.

Kinney’s exhibit explores this by taking pictures and text out of their original context so that viewers will consciously invent their own meaning for her work.

“You have an image where you don’t know where I am or what I’m doing and then you have text where you don’t know what conversation it’s part of,” Kinney said. “So the viewer is asked how to figure out how the text and the image go together, and because we all have our own personal relationship with words, everyone is going to combine them in a different way.”

After she graduates from Southwestern, Kinney plans to move to Austin and continue painting.

- Daniel Dumitru