these kim kardashian selfies are remarkably like history’s greatest self-portraits

We took some of the best images from Phaidon’s new Five Hundred Self-Portraits and cross referenced them with posts from Kim Kardashian’s Instagram.

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Apr 3 2018, 10:21am

Left: Gustave Courbet, Self-portrait (The Desperate Man) (1843–45) Right: Kim Kardashian West, Kim Kardashian West, Ugh I hate falling sleep with all of my make up on!

You’d think our understanding of self-portraiture might have shifted a little since, oh I dunno, Egyptian artist Ni-ankh-Ptah chiseled his own mug onto block of limestone back in the heady days of 2350 BC. I mean, loads of people have had a crack since then. Albrecht Dürer, Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo. Those monkeys in Indonesia.

You could say the need to record one’s own image is an intrinsic part of human nature. Something that’s driven artists such as, say, Rembrandt, to be leaving the house, catch a glimpse of his funny, little hat in the mirror and think, ‘You know what? I should get a quick likeness of this over to m’lady in the approximately two to three years it’ll take to complete an oil on canvas work’.

Thankfully our methods are somewhat quicker today. In 2018, the ubiquity of the mobile telephone means that every man and his dog can take a quick selfie and upload it to Instagram. But how much have those selfies changed in the last four and a half thousand years? And what do they have to say about the visual representation of self?

To find out, we took some of the best images from Phaidon’s new Five Hundred Self-Portraits and, well -- we obviously cross referenced them with posts from Kim Kardashian’s Instagram, didn’t we? Yes we did.

Above: Gustave Courbet, Self-Portrait: The Desperate Man (1500) / Kim Kardashian West, Ugh I hate falling sleep with all of my make up on! (2015)
Two early examples of the medium here. Note the compact, almost claustrophobic framing. Both pieces were apparently created at the height of the artist’s despair (Courbet disillusioned with the end of his Romantic education, Kardashian having fallen asleep in her makeup). The raised hands, grasping at dark hair, suggest a sense of helplessness in both -- there is no escaping the intensity of the moment.

Maria Lassnig, Dreifaches Selbstporträt/New Self (1972) / Kim Kardashian West, When you're like I have nothing to wear LOL (2016)
A pair of famous nudes now. Both artists turn to more subdued and lowkey colour schemes to portray their recognisable figures. They’re frontally faced, but their bodies are dominated by areas of both light and shade. It’s worth noting the position of Kardashian’s wonderfully clean towels in the background -- a sense of completion, a fresh start and new transition? Maybe.

Francisco Goya, Self-Portrait in the Studio (c. 1791--2) / Kim Kardashian West, Gym time while my baby is napping! (2014)
Unflinching realism and a sense of intimacy in the above works. Goya was 37 before he painted a portrait of anyone but himself. Kardashian is the exact same age.

Ulay, s’He (1972) / Kim Kardashian West, Love this side by side of me when I'm 7 and me now (2015)
Two key works highlighting identity through change and the mythology of self now. Both artists use their body image as something fluid and malleable. Although very different in each half, they remain recognisably themselves. Mirror, reflection. An expression of an internalised truth, perhaps. Don’t quote me on that.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants) (1972) / Kim Kardashian West, I mustache you a question...but I'll shave it for later 👨 (2012)
And finally, exploring the boundaries of self through body alteration. By appropriating the traditional signifiers of patriarchal power, both artists play with the constrictive idea of gender binaries and challenge the stereotypes around how a woman should traditionally look. Kardashian “mustache you a question” but what it is remains a mystery. Marvelous.

This piece of content seemed like quite a fun idea at the time bit actually turned out to be quite a lot of research :( Also, Five Hundred Self-Portraits published by Phaidon is out now.