By Willow Blythe and Bella Littleton
Artwork by Ella Benitone
Michelangelo, Vincent Van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso are some of the greatest artists of the last few centuries, but can they stand up to the rising pop culture phenomenon of memes?
The line between what is or isn’t art is constantly changing, so anything can be art, right? “Whoever is buying,” was art history teacher Mrs. Nancy Prillaman’s answer when asked about who decides what art is. “Vincent Van Gogh,” she continued, “is one of the most influential artists, but he starved to death. The only reason we have his paintings is because his sister-in-law kept them. So, what you look at as art today is something that somebody decided was art.” So, who is to say that memes will not be considered art many years from now?
When Reese Suddarth (9), local meme enthusiast, was asked about where memes belonged in the world of art, she said, “No, I don’t think [memes] are art. I think they are their own category of comedy.” However, this point is contentious: memes are at the forefront of modern culture and are continuing to evolve, so what role do these humorous pictures really have in society?
Like Suddarth, meme master Caroline Gramm (11) agrees that memes should be considered separate from more traditional art. “Their main purpose is to express an opinion through humor instead of to be visually appealing,” she stated, “They’re like political cartoons — they’re meant to be more of a statement than an art form. And sometimes they’re just meant to be weird and make you laugh.” As Gramm said, the subject content of memes ranges from completely random sectors of pop culture to more heavy statements. They can be light and funny or evoke a sense of dark humor. The internet has granted memes a vast platform and gives a wide audience for them to be received.
However, we cannot dismiss the argument on the basis of “who’s to say?” If visual art counts, graphic art should count as well. If graphic design is an art, then memes are simply graphic art influenced by layers of pop culture. Memes also come in and out of popularity, just like music and movies, which are considered art by a majority of people.
Prillaman further explained, “I don’t think we know [if memes are art] yet. If you are studying art, you are studying what someone decided about art 15 or 20 years ago. It isn’t up to you to determine if [memes] are art; it will be what your children and grandchildren decide.”
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