Balancing your phone on the edge of a plant pot and then angling it so your double chins can't be seen on a Zoom call is not vanity, it’s art. Well, sort of.

According to Sinéad Rice, Head of Education at the National Gallery of Ireland, smartening up your image and carefully planning the backdrop to your video chats is a digital version of painting a self-portrait. Sinéad chatted to Ryan Tubridy about how to enjoy art from home and the National Gallery’s Zurich Young Portrait Prize 2020.

Sinéad’s enthusiasm for bringing the gallery’s art collection to people wherever they are is undimmed by having to work from home. She says enjoying art online and even taking up painting can be great distractions for many people, herself included.

"It can take you out of the moment you’re in. Other people play music, but for me it was always art."

The National Gallery provides access to a selection of their paintings virtual tours. Sinéad says this online window is all the more welcome when visiting the gallery in person isn’t possible. She says they’ve recently expanded their offering with this in mind.

"Hopefully it brings some respite and some joy to people’s lives by making more and more of the collection available online and more activities available to do online as well while people are at home."

Ryan suggested that with all the video chatting and Zoom meetings people are having these days, taking a lot of trouble over your online image is a bit like painting a self portrait. Sinéad agrees.

"Oh yeah, I mean there’s loads of talk about it online at the moment. You know, there’s a kind of a trend now for people positioning themselves in front of bookshelves, curating their Zoom."

The Fine Art graduate says there are lots of things that carefully-framed Zoom calls and traditional portraiture have in common. Sinéad tells Ryan it’s no surprise to her that people are making 'artistic’ decisions about how they come across on a screen.

"Everybody does it – intentionally or not. We think about, how do we look, what’s the angle of our face, when we’re talking to somebody, what can you see behind it? I mean, obviously, incidental things happen, but usually, we’re positioning things, and with portraiture, that’s absolutely the case."

For young people who want to have a go at portrait painting, the National Gallery is running an inclusive art competition, the Zurich Young Portrait Prize. Sinéad Rice is encouraging everyone, young and old, to enjoy and to be inspired by the National Gallery’s own portrait collection online.

"You can learn a ton from portraiture. And we have this wonderful collection. And a lot of it, the vast majority of it, is online on the gallery website to look at."

And go ahead and colour-code your bookshelves before a video meeting – you could be creating a work of art.

For more on the National Gallery of Ireland’s activities and virtual gallery, listen back to Ryan’s full chat with Sinéad Rice here.

You can access content from the National Gallery of Ireland on their social media feeds, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and you can take a virtual tour of the gallery from home here.

Young artists who would like to enter for the Zurich Young Portrait Prize can find out more here.

                                                                                                                                                 - Ruth Kennedy