Here's something a little bit fun to start the week off with. In a previous life, before I started producing audio and multimedia guides, I wrote a PhD. Although it was on medieval literature, I managed to include a full chapter on memes, so this post from the Royal Academy jumped out at me when I spotted it on my Twitter feed earlier.
It offers up some of the most parodied artworks of all time, from the muppet Miss Piggy as Mona Lisa, to hard-man action film star Vin Diesel as, well, Mona Lisa... Although some of the examples given aren't memes (there's satirical cartoons aplenty, for instance) it's the memes which stand out for me.
It's pretty much impossible to predict which images will become transformed into memes by the internet community which thrives around them, but when combined with classical works of art, the process raises a few interesting questions:
- Is the original piece's cultural capital enhanced or damaged by its association with such a frivolous, if prominent, practise?
- Can we use memes as a point of access to particular art and culture for audiences who might otherwise remained unengaged?
- Similarly, will museums and galleries some day be presenting exhibitions of memes in their own right?
How is it that a squirrel reaching for a walnut can summon the Sistine Chapel? That a rubber duck can sit in for one of the most famous girls in art history, and be recognised by its pearl earring? Two hands and a mouth is The Scream. Two people and a pitchfork is American Gothic. Somehow, these works have crossed any boundaries of art and become everyday references, dotted across our screens, novels, and newspapers – copied and celebrated and mocked again and again and again.