The Art of Narcissism
Perfecting My Mona Lisa Duckface
One of the things I hear a lot about Millenials, and especially heavy social media users, is that they tend towards narcissism. There’s seemingly endless proof in streams of vapid tweets, self-involved Facebook updates, and fuzzy Instagram selfies captured in the glow of the bathroom light.
To talk about themselves, document every meal, and flaunt every moment like a Kardashian seems pretty vain and self-important on the surface. But it’s easy to ascribe intent to something that’s new or not well understood. And I think that what we’re seeing is not really so much narcissism as a deep desire to connect, and to create art.
Eric Olsen’s excellent article Every Post Is a Selfie succintly deflates the truism that despite the narcissist contingent, the rest of us average folks using the social web are just humble and unpretentious bystanders who wouldn’t know self-involvement if it hit them in the duckface.
Every post is a “selfie” – the desire for social approval. We seek out recognition for that which we value in ourselves. “Selfies” are absolutely weird. But we all do it – with every post.
A selfie, and any post we share with the world, is a part of the narrative we’re telling about ourselves to ourselves and others. Storytelling is the one language we all share, and it’s how we transmit culture, meaning, and how we define our own place in the universe. It’s also an important element of art.
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
– Pablo Picasso
It’s taken for granted that artists are people who are trained, practiced,possibly maladjusted, and definitely adults. But I’ll defer to Pablo here and insist that everyone is an artist as long as the desire to create isn’t beaten out of them.
Art requires intent (even if creating art is not the intent) and an audience. It’s the bridge between the vision and feelings of the artist and the viewer, listener, or reader. It can be bad and it can be great, even uninspiring. But it will make someone feel something.
The impulse to create art is as powerful as any other thing that drives us because art connects us to experiences and to one another. Good is besides the point when the need behind it is to create something honest and true to the way we see the world. It’s not about realism. The vintage-tinted Instagram filters are derided for adding a nostalgic cast to the mundane, but what they do is allow users to share their world in the same emotional shades they see. The photo becomes not just a document of a moment, but a story told from a point of view.
There are true narcissists out there, and many lead vibrant online lives, I’m sure. But for most of us, duck-lipped tweeps and tumblers, we’re just enjoying the unprecedented variety of ways to share our internal narratives, hoping to move someone or to be moved, and to know we’re not alone.