Karl Lagerfeld Thinks Selfies Are "Electronic Masturbation." Is He Right?
Karl Lagerfeld is known for his fashion genius, his wacky little soundbites, and — according to our very own Tori Telfer — his status as a modern-day Andy Warhol. But Warhol might not have agreed with Lagerfeld's assessment that the selfie is just "electronic masturbation." And neither do I.
In an interview with The Guardian, Lagerfeld delivered plenty of trademark pithy comments, but his opinion on the now-ubiquitous photography style known as the selfie really stood out. "They are this horrible thing where you are distorted. The chin is too big, the head is too small. No, this is electronic masturbation," he told the publication. This statement makes Lagerfeld sound surprisingly out of touch.
Sure, many selfies are really poor quality and seem to be taken for the sole purpose of saying "here I am, look at my fabulous life!" They're also everywhere, unlike the wares Lagerfeld creates as the head designer of Chanel. Lagerfeld's fashions are exclusive. Selfies are for everyone. Put that way, one could see how Lagerfeld could be against them. However, the ubiquitous nature of selfies does not automatically disqualify them from being art. In fact, I'd argue that the artistic power of the selfie actually lies in how pervasive they are.
A tacit dismissal of the selfie seems odd coming from a man who just created a supermarket in which to hold a fashion show, a concept very much in line with the Pop Art ideology. Pop Artists would eat up the selfie faster than you can heat a can of Campbell's soup. Were he still alive, Andy Warhol would have already made the Instagram selfie gallery-worthy. The selfie is the new Poor Little Rich Girl: a way to peer into someone's life while acknowledging it could very well be a façade.
Lagerfeld, who fakes his pure white hair color with dry shampoo and wears a uniform, knows a thing or two about the well-crafted public image. The selfie is just a way for the common man to well-craft his/her own public image. To say that selfies are nothing more than "electronic masturbation" somehow nullifies all forms of self portraiture that are not high-brow.
If this is a fight between high-brow/low-brow art, shall I point you toward the Chanel sneakers and kneepads of 2014? Are expensive sneakers and a fashion supermarket really all that different from the selfie? In practice, yes. But the selfie can be elevated to fine art just as easily as any other object. At worst, the selfie is a bad photo. At best, it's brilliant self-portraiture.
Hugh Dornbush, founder of website selfie.com (which is still in development) told Newsweek:
“I think the selfie has to be considered art, accepting that not all art is great and some is very bad. But it's a deliberate act of self-expression. So far it's been easy to equate that self-expression with narcissism (which it often is), but the selfie is fundamentally a self-portrait using modern technology. And of course that is art.”
By that token, I think Karl Lagerfeld needs to reassess the value of selfies. They could very well be taking over galleries soon.