Classical Art Memes: Do Art Memes Devalue Art?

Ah, memes—the oddly fascinating, satirical humor of the self-deprecating generation. This phenomenon remains to be one of the main topics of studies on modern cultural influences. There are communities all over the internet, propagating it, and even playing with them as if there's an actual stock market for memes. What it means to today’s generation is still a topic of discussion. While memes are often a mix of everything from pop culture to cult references, its reach and scope remain obfuscated. Not to mention, its shelf life is about as short as the attention span of two-year-olds. Yet this fact is what keeps it alive and is the reason why new memes rise to fame quickly after one essentially dies.

One of the many memes that have sent me to laughing fits are the classical art memes; you know, those classical or renaissance art turned hypercritical satire for the new generation with just a few texts and descriptions added in. In the past, it’s harmless humor to me. It is true that the medieval babies are ugly and that classical paintings portray subjects in the weirdest poses possible, these are probably one of the many reasons why people turned to art for more meme content; the superficiality of classical and renaissance art can be a skin-deep subject for the resonant millennial angst. But what do these memes do for the art used? Do they devalue the works used? What purpose do these memes serve in the arts?

Meme Culture Represent

There are a lot of meme formats and to discuss them one by one will not bring them any justice for now but all these have two things in common: all of them are relatable and each viral meme that comes out promotes solidarity. Hear me out:

Meme culture often presents itself as "relatable" content in the form of pictures and words. This is the emotional value that contributes to the virality of memes. When a meme is spread throughout the internet, people share it because they feel like it's meant for them. Take the "tag yourself" meme that went around for months. To this day, I use this meme as I find some contents truly relatable that there's a part of me that I could see somewhere in it. It's not a bad thing it does make you feel like you belong. Some items on the "only 90's kids know" memes will hit you even if you're born in the late '90s as each of these cultural icons they list transcend through the millennia.

Memes, more often than not, get more likes and retweets than serious subject matters. These empathic communication channels would break down walls after walls. It crosses all kinds of sub-cultures and communities with its humor and relatability. You'll find the same meme among different interest pages and you wouldn't even feel a certain proprietorship over one.

Memes: Classic

"Classic," I would often find myself saying whenever I see a meme from 2015 like Pepe the Frog or "Sure, Jan" from A Very Brady Sequel. Unlike memes, art goes beyond the millennia but what do you expect from a generation of self-deprecating individuals. Lo and behold, classical art or art history memes are born.

For years, art has been a very intimidating topic for me. As a late-bloomer in the industry, it was hard for me to say something about these works of art. What art history memes gave me was a good pat on the back saying, "it's okay. You can laugh. They do look funny." Next thing I knew, I was following a bunch of classical art memes on Instagram and retweeting a lot of them on Twitter. I've made classical art memes myself and while they've never gone viral, a few likes have given me comfort that what I said could have been felt by these people as well.

“After all, the internet is a warzone of trends and content. These works will pass and tomorrow, there's a new meme that will come out and then again people would ask, "what does it affect this time?"”

Not a lot of people would see this but classical art memes offered a gateway to learning more about art history, understanding the artists' logic, and the meaning behind each painting. After much exposure to these memes, I felt compelled to find the answer to the question, "why are they like these anyway?" After so much research and attempt to understand art history, it's safe to say that what these memes brought is no depreciation. Medieval and renaissance art is indeed considered priceless today but just because they've been used as tools in injecting humor to the tragic every-day lives of angsty millennials or trivial adventures of a young individual doesn't mean they devalue the art pieces used. They simply start a conversation that transcends time.

It's easy to laugh at classical art memes because of the humorous ways we find faults in it. We can still do it with contemporary art but it seems so that contemporary art still appropriates from art history. Somewhere between those brushstrokes is a piece of history we may not have known. In the future, memes may be out of fashion. The trends will change and something else will take over a whole generation. The freedom of use that classical memes offer like public domain access is, simply put, been of benefit to creators. After all, the internet is a warzone of trends and content. These works will pass and tomorrow, there's a new meme that will come out and then again people would ask, "what does it affect this time?"

Anchor photo courtesy of Classical Art Memes