Artiquette: 14 Tips on How to Take a Killer Art Selfie

Remember: Even the coolest art selfie isn't worth your life.

Ryan Gander, Group Portrait – Four lads from Chester and one lad from Swinton drinking Espresso Martini's, Gorilla, Manchester, 2nd of July 2014, following the opening of the exhibition Make every show like it's your last, Manchester Art Gallery (2016), detail, at Lisson Gallery. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

Artiquette is a series that explores etiquette in the art world.

Thanks to digital photography and smart phones, pretty much anyone has a camera in their pocket, allowing all of us to document our lives in near-real time on social media.

A big part of crafting one’s image is the selfie, and, for art lovers, there is no better variety than the art selfie. As perfected by Jay Z and Beyonce, the art selfie features photogenic works of art alongside the photographer’s smiling mug.

It’s not as straightforward as it seems, however, as not all art selfies are created equal. While some exhibitions seem to be created with Instagram in mind, others don’t quite translate into photographs.

Luckily, artnet News has you covered with this helpful guide on mastering the art of the art selfie.

1. Set the stage.
Fashion blogger Pari Ehsan has amassed 200,000 Instagram followers for her stunningly-composed photos, in which she poses with artwork dressed in complementary or matching attire. “The vision is to create a dialogue with the art, to add my own interpretive layer and cause someone to pause and look deeper into the image,” she explained to artnet News in an email.

For a truly striking art selfie, it pays to plan ahead. Your clothes, hair, and make-up can take your art selfie to the next level.

2. The best art selfie is worth traveling for.
In our increasingly global art world, it seems like there’s a new art destination to visit every week. For those of us who don’t live the jet set life, there’s nothing like living vicariously through the international art selfies of others, whether they’re at Christo’s Floating Piers or Art Basel in Basel.

“I’m fresh back from Marfa/Robert Irwin’s new installation at the Chinati Foundation, and the pilgrimage is more than worth it,” said Ehsan, who sees her art travel photos as “all about sharing the experiences that are meaningful to you, and compelling others to have their own in-person experience.”

An American student waiting for firefighters to free him from Fernando de la Jara's marble vagina sculpture, Chacán-Pi (Making Love), at Germany's Tübingen University. Photo: Erick Guzman, via Imgur.

An American student waiting for firefighters to free him from Fernando de la Jara’s marble vagina sculpture, Chacán-Pi (Making Love), at Germany’s Tübingen University. Courtesy of Erick Guzman, via Imgur.

3. Safety first.
This should go without saying, but don’t be stupid. Even the coolest art selfie isn’t worth your life, so don’t go scaling, say, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer on a whim.

Poorly-executed selfies also have been known to damage artworks. Please, don’t be that guy that smashes a statues or gets trapped in a giant marble vagina in the quest for the perfect photo op.

4. Reflective surfaces are your friend.
The art selfie lover has never met a shiny, reflective sculpture they didn’t appreciate. As the slightly less-tacky cousin of the bathroom mirror, the mirrored art selfie is a staple of every art fair. Jeff Koons is loving the trend.

5. Look at the overall picture.
Make sure to consider the angle and how far away you are from the piece before striking a pose. Patience is also key, to ensure there’s no one walking by to ruin your perfect shot.

“My advice to the novice is never upstage the art, its about balance, line, form and overall composition,” said Ehsan. “I’m constantly asking myself questions as I’m seeing art, why do I like this, what about it do I love. This informs the elements that I draw out in my pairings, ideas and visuals I want to explore.”

Composition is crucial, and can be the difference between an average photo and a truly memorable art selfie.

Kara Walker offensive Instagram photos6. Keep it classy. 
Artwork elevates the art selfie above your average selfie, but a “cool” painting or sculpture only goes so far toward respectability. One wrong step, be it your caption, hashtags, or facial expression, and you can quickly veer into offensive territory.

“Respect the art, don’t embarrass yourself or make the artist (if dead) turn in their grave,” warned Ehsan.

7. Beware the selfie stick.
Yes, the selfie stick can help extend your reach and is key for taking selfies of large groups, but museums are increasingly banning them. (They are admittedly disruptive to other patrons, and can lead to accidents or damage to artworks if carelessly waved around.)

Let’s face it: Even in the best of times, you look silly taking a selfie. The selfie-stick only draws more attention to yourself (although to be fair, for some selfie takers perhaps that is the goal).

8. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
You’re taking a selfie. Have some fun with it.

9. Bigger is (usually) better.
Some art selfies are guaranteed to be hits, at blockbuster exhibitions like Yayoi Kusama‘s Infinity Room. Everyone may be doing it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want your own picture with Jeff Koon’s Split Rocker.

Nevertheless, don’t underestimate the appeal of the unexpected. “Something I am really struck by is when an person finds a little-known or overlooked piece in an exhibition and uses their platform to spotlight it,” Job Piston, a photographer and Performa‘s special projects and communications associate, told artnet News in an email. “Making a picture is similar to using your finger to point at something and say ‘Look at this. Really LOOK at it.'”

For Ehsan, the process of selecting an artwork to shoot is “very intuitive. I choose the works or installations that speak to me.”

10. Respect the power of the filter.
A good filter can make or break a successful art filter. Go beyond Valencia and Lo-Fi and experiment with the other tools to improve color, contrast, and saturation. Or, if you’re really serious, invest in real photo-editing software to truly up your game.

11. It’s not all about you.
Let your friends in on the selfie fun. Everyone loves a good group selfie, and taking one with an awesome work of art should be a #squadgoal.

12. Don’t forget the caption. 
Tell people what they’re looking at, and credit the artist and the institution. Not only is this good manners, it will also help give your art selfie additional exposure. “Keep it real and succinct with the hashtags, artist, work, location and the people that helped bring the image into the realization,” said Ehsan.

13. Sometimes, the best art selfies aren’t selfies at all.
Looking through my Instagram, I realize there are plenty of photos of me with art, and plenty of selfies, but not a ton of overlap between the two categories. It’s not an easy task to take a flattering photo of yourself that also shows off a work of art to its best advantage.

“The selfie has evolved into going with friend to an exhibition whose judgement you trust to take your photo,” said Piston, pointing out that you still make the photo your own by choosing where to shoot, how to crop the image, and handling the post-production, captioning, and tagging.

Picking the right image after a long day at an art fair or museum is also key. “I usually choose 2 or 3 out of 150–200 images,” said Ehsan.

Even if you’re shooting far less, don’t be afraid to let a friend (or an indulgent stranger) do the honors. More often than not, the photo will be the better for it, and, as Piston declared, “it’s the natural evolution of selfie 2.0.”

14. Let the art speak for itself.
Not every work of art is destined for selfie stardom. Believe it or not, many artists created their works without you in mind, so there’s a decent chance your followers will enjoy looking at it even if you’re not in frame. When in doubt, turn your camera back around and live to selfie another day.

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