30 Of The Most Hilarious Classical Art Memes Shared On This Facebook Group Interview With Owner
The world of classic art can look overwhelming from the outside, with a plethora of styles, conventions, must-remember pieces, and artists. And that’s only if one stays firmly rooted in the Western art tradition. Fortunately, memes are here to save the day. By adding a little modern zest, an old painting can be transformed into something more approachable, relatable, and humorous.
The “Classic Art Memes” Facebook group takes, well, classic paintings and art, and adds hilarious and relatable captions to them. We also reached out to Camille Katz, the founder and one of the moderators of the group. So scroll down, upvote your favorites, and comment on the most relatable captions you see.
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Despite our general perception of the era these paintings were made in as stuffy, with their manners, gowns, and many, many layers of clothing, the artists of the past had their own sense of humor. The Dutch, for example, had a term for paintings of the still lifestyle that were a bit “extra,” they would call them pronkstilleven or “ostentatious still life,” to describe the artist really going overboard with details.
It’s important to remember that before the photograph, art was the premier and really the only way to depict an image. As such, some ancient historians recounted tales of drawings “so lifelike” that birds would descend on the painted fruits to eat them. This is either vastly overrating the artists of the time or underrating the general intelligence of a bird. Either way, it invokes the feeling many people had when video games became 3D and people were sure graphics could simply not get any better.
Bored Panda got in touch with Camille Katz, who founded the group. We wanted to know why she thinks this content is interesting for people. "I think it's the juxtaposition between the serious art piece and the light-hearted modern take of making it into a meme. I think Classic art memes draw the interest of scholars and laymen alike. You don't have to be classically trained to make a silly meme. I love the group because it breaks up the Facebook doom scrolling and adds a bit of levity to my feed."
It’s also worth noting that, at the time, despite the reverence we now hold these works in, often critics would consider any more innovative works as terrible. Early Rococo was sometimes referred to as degenerate, superficial, and a “ridiculous jumble of shells, dragons, reeds, palm-trees, and plants." In general, artists depicting anything non-religious was a bit controversial, until the Protestant Revolution, when it became, instead, illegal to depict religious figures. Artists of the time had to be diverse to avoid possible punishment from rapidly changing norms.
If that’s not bad enough, in Ancient China, just getting paid for one’s art was already a signifier, in some circles, that the artist was equal to butchers or tinkers who peddle their wares in the marketplace. So true art had to be a hobby and don’t you dare even try to sell it. One wonders if the Ancient Chinese artist's version of working for exposure would be to simply scatter finished works alongside a road and hope people give them a look.
Camille Katz had some clarifications as to how the group approached what to post: "Classic is in the Eye of the beholder," meaning classic may mean a DaVinci piece, but it may also mean a Banksy Piece. One thing I say is, "It's a meme, not a history book." There is no need to take things too seriously. This meme group is an easy way to be exposed to classic works of art in a fun, light-hearted way."
On the side of the spectrum, the Ancient Egyptians did not even have a word for art. Individual crafts had names, as did the people who made them, but they did not distinguish drawing or painting as anything more than a practical way to depict information. That being said, it would still be generally commissioned by the rich and powerful, and it was only around 600 BC that artists (for lack of a better word) started to actually display their subjects with physical imperfections like wringing and signs of age. Some sources even argue that Egyptian artists and craftspeople wouldn’t even sign their work, as having a name associated with a piece wasn’t particularly important.
In the modern era, artists, naturally, have more freedom to depict what they want to and to be known or not known, if they feel like it. The street artist Banksy, famously, prefers anonymity. Even so, people will find ways to complain. Grant Wood’s 1930 painting “American Gothic” drew criticism from Iowans for the depiction of them as "pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible-thumpers." Since Grant Wood, a native Iowan, based the woman off of his sister and the man off of their family dentist, they may have been close to the mark.
This is, unfortunately, a common theme, as styles change and people remain unhappy. Baroque, which we might now consider a classic style, was said to have painters that “are a plague on good taste, which infected a large number of artists." 19th Century critics would even say that the style was responsible for poor moral judgment and that it corrupted people. Some are just hard to please. If you want to keep exploring art memes, check out Bored Panda’s other pieces here and here.