Home > Get inspired > Memes in Art
Memes in Art
Get inspired 03 Jun 2022

Memes in Art

Art is constantly evolving, and according to the Oxford dictionary, it can be defined as the use of the imagination to express ideas or feelings, particularly in painting, drawing or sculpture. Considering this definition and the ever-changing nature of human creation, one can say that memes are art, since they tick all the boxes. Indeed, they are precious tools to better understand the complexity and nuances of our everyday lives. Today, let’s go deeper into the subject of memes in art to finally find out what it’s all about!

A brief history of memes

Pepe the Frog viral meme
Unknown artist, Pepe the Frog, date unknown © Spoken Vision

Memes break the Internet. That’s what they’re meant to do. Indeed, they’re jokes in the form of images, GIFs, or videos. These often-so-viral contents can be based on all kinds of topics, ranging from pop culture to politics. Via them, a form of web culture, or even, counter-culture, emerges. Digital natives embrace this ultra-saturated World Wide Web in which one can quickly gain momentum. Memes are used to question, critique, and cope with every day. The most successful ones are inspired by real-life situations and events and allow for self-expression in our ultra-digitized era.

Richard Dawkins describes them as cultural units of information. They’re ideas that are worth sharing, passing on and copying. In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, the evolutionary biologist blended the Greek word “mimeme” and “gene” and designed the term “meme”. Nevertheless, memes didn’t start with this first occurence of the term, nor with the Internet, as some linguists argue that they’ve been used by humans as a means of communication since ancient times.

What is meme art?

Dude With Sign on Instagram
Dude With Sign, I Still Don’t Know What Crypto Is, 2021 © Dude With Sign

Memes are not an exact science. They appeal to the senses, to the emotions, to the humor of each and every one – exactly how art would. See the connection?  

The electronic age led to the democratization of a more explorative way of creating works of art. While formerly people worked with brushes and paint, digital artists are now producing pieces on softwares such as Adobe Photoshop! Memes require less time, and some would argue that they require less effort. 

As a result, internet memes are often compared to pop art, or street art, because they’re highly accessible. They are designed by people with no academic background in arts – in other words, self-taught, everyday people. Both urban art and meme art attempt to start a dialogue on society and power, whether it is through words painted on walls or through dark humor. On another note, memes are described as decentralized creativity by An Xiao Mina, who states: “Memes are the street art of the social web, and like street art, they are varied, expressive, and complex, and they must contend with the existing politics of our public spaces.

Have memes become a proper art form?

Mr Stonks meme
@kewlew, Art, 2020 © imgflip

Ever heard of meme creator Joan Cornellà? Well the whole art world has too, now. Exhibited in art fairs, featured in art galleries, or sold on art marketplaces… Memes are everywhere. But have they become a modern art form? Some would say yes; what exactly differentiates a meme template from a white canvas? Creating viral content requires skill. Choosing the right image or video, cropping it, editing it, picking the right words, keeping it short and sweet but still well thought out… All these steps are similar to those an artist would have to go through in their creative process. 

Our 5 favorite art history memes

What better way to wrap this quick read than with an hilarious selection of our favorite art history inspired memes? Sit back and relax, Artsper has exactly what you need for a good laugh!

1. The most absurd

Art history meme
@discardingimages, untitled, date unknown © Ugly Renaissance Babies

2. The most anachronistic

Bernie Sanders meme
Michael Lobel, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper (reworked), 2021 © Surface Mag 

3. The most clever

Ikea's Mona Lisa meme
Ikea, We Got It!, 2022 © IKEA

4. The most relatable

Art history meme
@regian24, untitled, date unknown © Far & Wide

5. The most musical 

Art history meme
Camille Jouneaux, Mezzetin by Antoine Watteau (reworked), 2021 © @la.minute.culture

Find out more about other upcoming forms of digital art on Artsper!

About Artsper

About Artsper

Founded in 2013, Artsper is an online marketplace for contemporary art. Partnering with 1,800 professional art galleries around the world, it makes discovering and acquiring art accessible to all.

Learn more