A Mona Lisa Selfie? Really??
Are you one of the few people in the world that hasn’t succumbed to the selfie? I confess I was, until I queued to see the most famous smile in the world and became inspired to pose and snap my own. My first selfie was a Mona Lisa Selfie #monalisaselfie. So, who do you think has the nicest smile? And why are we looking at art through a screen backwards?
No selfie sticks
“The stick is not allowed,” says the guard, approaching a couple of kids clasping a sleek metal pole. They break off from grinning like the gargoyles on the bell tower across town, shrug, and telescope the stick back into itself. Then as soon as he turns his back they pull it out and resume gurning for the camera. Because, as any teen knows, if they haven’t taken a selfie then they weren’t actually there.
They wander off and I wander on, a hired Louvre Nintendo 3DS digital guide in one hand, my phone in the other. Everywhere I look people are tapping, reading and following devices around the Louvre.
We are looking at things differently
The way we view art in galleries and museums around the world has undeniably changed with the rise of smartphones, tablets and social media platforms. At UK Tate Modern’s 3rd floor Digital Drawing Bar the visitor is encouraged to become the visual artist. David Hockney’s 2010 Fleurs Fraiches in Paris displayed works on iPads. And the Instagram #empty movement has recently opened up some of the world’s most famous cultural spaces, like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, after closing time.
Connecting through a lens, backwards
But none of this can touch the rise of the selfie. I follow a digital signal to the back of a queue where dozens of people are waiting patiently to see a world famous portrait. Well, not to ‘see’ it exactly. Because not everyone actually looks at the Mona Lisa with their eyes these days. Instead they get to the front of the queue, turn, outstretch their arm, flick a switch on the camera, smile and press a button. They connect with the painting through the lens, backwards. They view a masterpiece, already framed behind glass, through glass. In all honesty they have always viewed her through the lens, she is, after all, one of the most photographed women in the world. But at least when people looked through their SLR’s they focused on the painting and made it the subject of their shot. Now they focus on themselves. Leonardo da Vinci’s lauded creation has been downgraded to wallpaper. Although she does have her own regularly used hashtag. #monalisa has over 387,000 posts on Instagram.
The people’s choice of selfie
In some ways the Mona Lisa is the most appropriate painting for a selfie in the world. Unlike bulkier masterpieces she is small enough to fit over your shoulder. The wall she is attached to is conveniently magnolia – perfect for tweaking with an Instagram filter. She is always smiling. She is so recognisable that you can tell who she is even if she isn’t in focus; and quite often she isn’t. I watch as people defocus her through a selection of androids, iPads and iPhones. The cracked screen is not a social comment, just a recent accident.
I suddenly have the urge to join the tribe. But I have two problems. The first is the mechanics of it all. I have never taken a selfie before and am not sure exactly how to do it. The second is a fear of heckling as I hold up the queue with my fiddling. Then, on the left of the crowd, I spot a selfie corner near the guards. This second class space seems to give people an extended window of time to grin and grimace and focus and click. A slot opens up. It is now or never. In a copycat move I press a little camera icon in the top corner of my screen. I turn. I smile. I hold the phone too close, too angled, too far, too high, too low. My fingers sweat. My smile loses its sheen while through her double glazing I swear the Mona Lisa sniggers.
Snap and grab
Result! At the age of 48 I have taken my first selfie. Now, if I choose to, I can share this moment with my followers who can look and like and comment and repost. I have definitely looked better. But I have never felt so ‘now’. I am pushed out of the way by a couple who flip out a pole.
“The stick is not allowed.” says the guard.
It is the same guard, the same couple, the same gargoyle grins, the same selfie stick. I swear I see a toothpaste advert gleam at the corner of the Mona Lisa lips. A dozen people capture the expression. In a #MonaLisaSelfie.