When I think of Kim Kardashian, I think of someone who’s a little vain, vacuous and vulgar. She doesn’t exactly portray herself as someone who has a lot going on under the surface. So why did Rizzoli—one of the world’s most reputable art publishers—choose to put out a 445-page book dedicated to the reality star, in all her vainglory? This sleek coffee table book, Kim Kardashian West: Selfish, is filled with page after page of pictures of Kim, by Kim, shamelessly showcasing her obsession with her favorite muse. By giving its stamp of approval, is Rizzoli insinuating that Kim and her duck faces should be evaluated in the same way we do Rembrandt, Picasso and Frida Kahlo—the undisputed masters of the self portrait? That might be taking it a little far, but really, I’m curious to find out what they’re aiming for. If she truly is an artist, then that begs the question, are all iPhone wielding, selfie stick-touting Generation Y yuppies artists, too?
The effort that goes into creating Kim’s look could certainly be argued to be a work of art in itself. In one photo, we see her with no makeup, looking almost normal, albeit genetically gifted. In others, we see her in various stages of getting glammed up: hair in curlers, makeup not yet blended in. It’s not easy to transform her into the Kim we know: it takes two hours every morning to get her ready. Her makeup artist works like a master painter, polishing and perfecting her face and body (no tan lines here!) into unattainable perfection. Within the photos, we see the tricks revealed: her face is aggressively contoured with darks and lights to highlight and shade before being blended. Is this any different than painting a portrait, where you have to block out the lights and darks before filling in the details? When I sat down and thought about it, what initially seemed like an absurd link actually isn’t much of a stretch. Whether you paint on a face or on a canvas, art is art, and who am I to judge?
For me, a work of art needs to have a few essential ingredients: color, composition, an emotional impact and a relationship to nature. I realize that while these points may be what springs to mymind as essentials, there actually isn’t anything necessary or intrinsic to a painting or photograph that “qualifies” it as art. There is no such thing as an art gene to prove its heredity. Art isn’t bound by rules or reduced to quantitative or qualitative equations, it’s a completely subjective experience. So who am I to say that these selfies aren’t art? This book was made to provoke and shock. In some pictures, Kim is literally sticking her tongue out at society, daring us to call her bluff. Although it would be easier to simply write her off as a vapid reality star obsessed with her cleavage, I’m wondering if perhaps she is showing us a little something underneath it all (besides her bra). By being so over-the-top and nihilistic, perhaps she’s making a commentary on our society at large: nothing matters except the shape of your derrière and the carats in your bling.