Everyone is aware of how significantly Facebook has impacted modern technologies such as online communication, information aggregation, and boyfriend stalking. Less noticed, but just as profound, is its influence on art. Just as refinements in mirror crafting led to an increase in self portrait production during the Renaissance, Facebook’s steady, unrelenting invasion of every crevice in the civilized world has led to a new renaissance in portraiture, notable for its creation by people who wouldn’t know good art if it friend requested them.
These office workers and bored teens have replaced Okies and deranged shut-ins as the ultimate outsider artists; not only do they lack formal artistic training, most lack even the desire to create art. However, with this humble, ad hoc genre a complex visual dialogue has emerged, and its unique vocabulary reveals much about the modern world. Like all art forms, Facebook portraiture has its own lazy tropes—the laptop camera shot, the blue sky background, the blinding flash in a bathroom mirror—but even these thoughtlessly captured snapshots yield unintended insights about their subjects: How is the photo cropped? Can we see the subject’s abs? Why is she giving us the finger? (See Portrait Interpretation key below.)
This chart will hopefully help you view specific Facebook portraits within the context of the larger genre, and therefore lead to a richer, more complex appreciation of Facebook portraiture as an emerging form of banal, eye-numbing expression.
NOTE: Choosing a literal or figurative avatar for your Facebook profile—a cartoon drawing, a famous person you think you look like (but which you don’t), a flower, a beach—is a popular option, but since it isn’t portraiture in the traditional sense, it is not covered in this chart.