Art History Memes: A Project about Context

You’ll never view this artwork the same way again. . .Will you?!?!

My students are obsessed with memes, those funny little internet pictures that seem to go viral. In fact, I use memes to deliver my rules every fall. But, increasingly, I’m seeing artists and other creative-types harness memes to delve into more interesting, thoughtful, and provocative ideas.

I follow a tumblr called, BitchFaceArt. Name notwithstanding, it is a pretty compelling tumblr. Essentially, the curator takes famous artworks and places text over them that forces the subject matter into a modern context. The results are totally hilarious (see below). 
From BitchFaceArt
From BitchFaceArt
It got me thinking. . .Students, upon first viewing an artwork, always make interesting comments about the context. What if I allowed the students to use -carefully curated- art history images and create their own memes inspired by (again the carefully curated) images from BitchFaceArt (and I never shared the url with my students btw!)?
Well, I did. . .And, it started a remarkable dialogue about the original context of the artworks. The students were able to select from a set of over thirty famous artworks, and used Pixlr-O-Matic to add text. Next, students had to research the artwork, and the original context. Finally, students uploaded their art history memes to our class edmodo and they had to include a brief description of the original context of the artwork in the comment box. Students were required to make thoughtful comments on at least three of their classmates works. 
The kids LOVED this.  . . And, I love that it got them learning about art history in a meaningful, relevant, and student-driven manner. 
Below, are a few of my favorite creations from this project! 

Here is a list of the artworks I used: 
After the Ball by Stevens
American Gothic by Wood
Autumn Leaves by Millias
Ballerinas by Degas
Christ in the House of His Parents by Millias
Dance Me to the End of Love by Valentino
Four Studies of a Negro Head by Rubens
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer
Girl with Gloves by Lempicka
Portrait of a Nobleman with a Falcon by Holbein
In the Conservatory by Manet
Isabella and a Pot of Basil by Holomon Hunt
James Wyatt and His Granddaughter by Millias
The Card Players by Steen
Jitterbugs by Johnson
La Coiffure by Degas
Jesus by La Tour
Lady Shallot by Waterhouse
Marius at Minturnae by Drouin
Mona Lisa by Da Vinci
Portrait of a Child with a Drawing by Caroto
Portrait of Gachet by Van Gogh
Portrait of Sarah Siddons by Rosetti
The Banjo Lesson by Turner
The Flower Carrier by Rivera
The Idle Servant by Maes
The Pioneer by McCubbin
The Scream by Munch
The Singing Butler by Valentino
War by Rousseau
Young Woman with Unicorn by Raphael

7 thoughts on “Art History Memes: A Project about Context”

  1. I just shared your project with my MoMA art and activity class. We had to do a similar assignment using art from the MoMA collection. I posted the 'Mom – I hate you for making me wear this' image. So engaging!

  2. Hi There!I'd like to use this for my honors art history class:) however, when I go to the Pixlr-O-Matic site I can't find how to add text…?thanks for the inspiration/help!

  3. So awesome! The kids would adore this, and talk about take in the body language of a piece. I cant wait to do this, and i might throw in some Grumpy cat too. Your biggest fan, and neighbor, Mimi

  4. Great idea. Just wondering, did you provide the images for them in a central location or did they have to do a webquest for a high resolution image? I always find this part of getting artwork online tricky.Thanks!

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