Finger Painting

With a final flourish, Alexandria Florent ’15 surveys her masterpiece. The strokes are precise, the shading even. Yet unlike most other works of art, Florent’s canvas is an iPhone and her chosen medium Snapchat.

Snapchat is a popular photo messaging application used by 76 percent of students, according to a Chronicle poll of 208 students conducted this weekend. Users can send images with added text or drawings to a controlled list of recipients, and after being viewed for several seconds, the photos self-destruct. More than 150 million images and messages are sent through the app daily, according to Time Magazine.Yet a few students, like Florent and Lex Ladge ’15, rise above the common silly selfie by using Snapchat to create detailed drawings.

“Last October I found out you could draw in all sorts of different colors, and I just went on a rampage,” Florent said. “Everybody was really impressed by my pictures so I just kept doing them.”

Both take art classes at school, but Ladge doesn’t believe that her Snapchat creations are comparable to the work she’s done in classes.

“It’s not high art,” she said. “It’s something to procrastinate with when I’m doing homework. They’re just glorified doodles.”

Florent disagrees, and believes that Snapchat is another aspect of art’s evolution in the digital age.

“Snapchat can definitely be art,” Florent said. “I’ll spend [more than] an hour on each drawing. Obviously it’s not something you put in a gallery or sell for a bunch of money, but that doesn’t mean it’s not art.”

She noted that work done on Snapchat had some advantages over that created in real-life.

“Unlike my drawings or paintings, it’s something that I can share with everybody,” she said. “I just send it on Snapchat or post it as a Snapstory, and all my friends can see it.”

The issue is by no means limited to Harvard-Westlake and has been the subject of some public debate.

“Snaps could be likened to other temporary art such as ice sculptures or decay art (e.g. Yoko Ono’s famous rotting apple) that takes seriously the process of disappearance,” essayist Nathan Jurgenson wrote in The New Enquiry magazine.

Regardless of whether her pictures qualify, Florent draws inspiration from the works of other artists she’s studied in class, in addition to other Snapchart art she sees on Buzzfeed.

“I really love Dali, and I’ve been thinking about doing something on Snapchat that uses his ideas, since we’re on surrealism in art right now,” she said. “I might mash up a couple of his works or recreate The Persistence of Memory.”

While Ladge may not consider her creations to be true art, they still impress her friends.

“They’re very well-drawn,” Alisha Bansal ’14 said. “Sometimes in the middle of the night when she’s complaining about homework, she’ll send me this really detailed snap of her being attacked by a dragon or something.”

Ladge’s and Florent’s peers for the most part echo Bansal and are consistently impressed with their work.

“It’s crazy,” Imani Cook-Gist ’15 said. “I can’t draw like that with a pencil and paper, forget a phone.”

Florent said her classmates are often as fascinated by the process as the end result itself.

“A lot of people don’t believe I can draw them with my finger,” she said. “They’re like ‘No, no, you have to use a stylus!’ I’ve done a lot of demo works where people just sit and watch me draw.”

For most people, though, Snapchat is more about having fun than making art.

In addition to students, a few teachers enjoy using the application as well.

“I like Snapchat because it’s a creative way to interact with others,” English teacher Jocelyn Medawar said. “I send pictures of my dog along with interesting things I see when I walk him in the hills around my house: views of the city, stunning flowers, an interesting bug. Thinking of what might be worth sending to others makes me more curious about the world around me.”

Both Ladge and Florent agree that as much as they enjoy doodling away on their phones, it’s ultimately a passing amusement.

“I love art, and Snapchat drawings are just a part of that,” Florent said. “Especially going to Harvard-Westlake and being so stressed, it’s nice to know I can come back and do this.”

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