Is Barack Obama’s Selfie Actually Art?

Is any selfie art? London’s Saatchi Gallery honors the artistic history of the selfie from van Gogh to Obama, while also asking the question.

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As the Greek myth goes, the hunter Narcissus once caught reflection of his own image in a river and fell so deeply in love with it that he refused to move and eventually died while staring at it. Poor Narcissus. If only he had lived in the smartphone age, might he have survived.

Of course, even before the advent of photography of any type, people have been obsessed with capturing their own image through other artistic mediums. Rare is the artist who hasn’t tried to reproduce their own visage at one point or another. Narcissus may have been obsessed with the way he looked to the point of self-demise, but artists have funneled their wonderment with themselves into creative energy.

But where does one draw the line between inspiration and plain narcissism? Where is the line between selfie and self-portrait, anyway? Is there even one? A new exhibition at London’s Saatchi gallery, Selfie to Self-Expression, aims to explore this murky territory.

Amongst the famous selfie-takers included will be Vincent van Gogh, Cindy Sherman, Tracy Emin, and, Barack Obama. Yes, the President’s infamous group selfie with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt will be included in the show. Or, rather, an image of the trio taking the picture of themselves will.

Note that this isn’t a case of the art world being head-over-heels in love with Barack Obama. (Which it has shown itself to be.) The selfie, taken at Nelson Mandela’s memorial, was actually quite controversial, viewed as inappropriate, and roundly criticized at the time. This may not be the selfie Obama wants people to remember, but its controversial nature makes it perfect for the show.

“In many ways, the selfie represents the epitome of contemporary culture’s transition into a highly digitalised and technologically advanced age as mobile phone technology has caught up with the camera,” Nigel Hurst, CEO at the gallery, tells The Guardian. “The exhibition will present a compelling insight into the history and creative potential of the selfie.”

Alongside more contemporary images (including Benedict Cumberbatch photobombing U2 on the Oscars red carpet), classical self-portraiture from artists like Rembrandt and van Gogh will also be on view. Newly commissioned work from 10 young British artists will be on display, and Saatchi will also be running a #SaatchiSelfie in conjunction with Huawei. Yes, you can submit your own photographic selfie with a panel of artists eventually crowning a winner who will be included in the show.

“The show will be the world’s first exhibition exploring the history of the selfie from Velazquez to the present day, while celebrating the truly creative potential of a form of expression often derided for its inanity,” claims the gallery. Though, it is far from the first exhibition on self portratiure to feature selfies. A recent exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery featured a cell phone snapped selie taken by Ai Weiwei.

The exhibition will debut on March 31 and run through May 30.

For some tips, let some super models clue you in on their favorite selfie secrets: