Remember the days before apps? How did we amuse ourselves? How did we occupy our free time? How? How, dammit! 😆 The apps keep on coming. Perhaps we should amend Benjamin Franklin’s famous aphorism about the only certainties in life to be “death, taxes, and apps”.
Recently, a new feature on the Google Arts and Culture phone app has gone viral. I noticed it when I saw some friends posting about it on social media. It’s a selfie app that uses facial recognition to match your picture with your doppelgänger from a work of art. In some postings I saw, people added incredulous comments to their results like, “Huh?” and “Seriously?” with a string of laughing emojis. Let’s just say that some of the matches seemed a bit off.
So naturally I couldn’t resist trying the damn thing myself. There’s really nothing to it. You just take a terrible selfie with the app and swipe to see the results. Here’s what I got, my dear readers. Decide for yourselves:
Well …. I don’t know what to say. I like the portraits on their own, but as ‘matches’? Maybe the Zabaleta came up because of the eyes and eyebrows? But Paolini’s ‘Fortune Teller’? Not seeing it at all. I had anticipated a cubist Picasso with giant eyes and distorted features. Then again, my selfie looks like shit so I suppose should just be happy with anything halfway decent. Sorry Pablo. Maybe next time 😉
But this selfie app experiment did get me thinking about ‘likenesses’. I’ve been around the topic a great deal in my 13 years of art modeling. Capturing a likeness of model is a challenging task to be sure. I have observed that some artists who make painstaking, methodical efforts to capture a likeness often miss the mark somehow, while some loose, freely executed works manage to catch it. I tend to believe that the overall ‘look’ of a person matters more than particular details; their ‘mien’, if you will. And abstraction can absolutely achieve it when done well. I’ve recognized myself instantly in some artists’ works not because they were perfectly representational, but because they communicated my presence and my look, just like every model has their own look, their own movement, their own gestural presence, their own attitudinal bearing. The Google Arts and Culture selfie app and its algorithmic calculations would recognize none of those things, because those things are perceived solely through life. We’re called ‘life models’ for a reason.
As for selfies, I blogged about them back in 2015 and we had a lot of fun delving into the topic. If anyone would like to revisit that post, it’s here –> Know Thyselfie