Making art in the Age of Memes

Our columnist, Beth Heinly peruses the meme culture so prevalent in the Internet and answers a question about whether art is now dead or if not what kind of art should we make? We’ve added a glossary at the bottom so you can get a handle on some of the heady acronyms and Internet buzzwords.

Artist, Skylar Chui
Artist, Skylar Chui

A reader, “Make Everything My Entertainment” asks…

In the age of memes why does anyone bother making art in antiquated forms? I mean, art is dead, right?

Art will never die. ART like a blood sucking vampire spawned from damnation lives on forever and even if for a time it is without blood, like an Anne Rice vampire, it simply calcifies to a point where it becomes like a statue until innocent blood is spilled again – but always it is living. I never finished reading Anne Rice’s ‘Vampire Chronicles’ so I’m not sure what happens once an ancient statuesque vampire is given blood again. (?) I’m confident it is not good for those with a heartbeat, which helps explain the reason conceptual artists experimented with fire for a short time in the 1960’s.


MEME, I had a feeling you already knew this. Now onto the first the part of your question, spoken like a true vampire, “why does anyone bother making art in antiquated forms?” By antiquated forms I’m guessing you mean like; painting, sculpting in marble, sewing, drawing – things that do not require technology like your computer, the internet and everything in between those two things specifically.

The aging of memes versus the aging of art

What I like about this question is not having to prove that YES painting is still relevant and always will be – but proving to you that nothing has aged in a way that dates it so specifically as Internet art from the 1990’s to last month. Trends move so fast through the social network we know as the Internet – everything becomes dated within a matter of minutes. Quite frankly, I worry for artists who are making art within the trends of their Instagram and/or Tumblr feeds. Literally, as I wrote that sentence I was regretting writing it – “Ew, Tumblr is totally dead” and “Gross, Instagram steadily declines into irrelvancy”.

You mention MEMEs meme, I mean memes, MEME. Have you ever shared a meme that was a month old? And furthermore as a result been completely chastised and cyberbullied by your entire online community for being so out touch and old (like your mom)??? Not sure you can tell, but I have. Memes age so quickly and lose their relevance within minutes of being made. Relevance=value in art. I do not envy persons out there like @scariestbugever or @puppycodes running popular meme pages on Instagram for free. Aside from product placement for things (buy this vibrator), being Internet famous helps you get a job, right? I’m kidding. I know, not from personal experience, that it doesn’t.


I would argue that mastering an antiquated art form is something an artist cannot help but fall back on (or are asked to do so by the gallery which represents them $). I guess what I’m saying is similar to the sage artist’s advice “Stay away from making art that is nostalgic” I say, “Stay away from making art that is a meme”. Quite frankly, MEME, I personally don’t want 12 y/o boys dictating what art is good or bad, while living in constant fear of getting doxed. Surely, there is currently and will be more, art school discourse and artworks made about the meme that are interesting. Like an exposé on Millennial Culture via Spongebob Squarepants, but wouldn’t you be embarrassed if that included your art? Maybe that’s just me.

Style will always lose out to Concept

Passé Styles Enmasse: Any art made that looks like it was on someone’s Tumblr feed from 2011; a Fiji water bottle; Monster Energy Drink logo; Pale anything; sparkly animated gifs, literally a meme; purple lipstick(actually not sure on this one); chains; art in an Art Fair. All this said, not all art made within the theme of an Internet trend expires faster than milk I never buy. These are styles utilized within traditional art forms that are merely surface observations that when revisited years later come off stale or at the very least – stuck in their time. I’m not writing off artwork which aims stylistically to be a siren of its time, only that – well – I am.

Artist Skylar Chui’s (see above) tweet accompanying their digital painting puts it best with “Why did I paint this?” Artwork made within the concepts of the Internet, about the network itself, not merely it’s surface – will always be relevant. Olia Lialina’s 1996 website “My Boyfriend Came Back From the War” inspired in part by Storyspace storytelling (duh) software published online using HTML is an example of Internet art that uses Internet language as a medium. See Rhizome article on Olia Lialina’s “My Boyfriend Came Back From the War” link here. This work is still important – tho dated as a website – it clearly marks a time and place that is itself ephemeral. Art history nerds love a good story.


The difficulty of conserving early Internet art

Early net art in HTML programming like Lialina’s struggles with preservation even more so than the average oil painting. Code is endlessly improving and evolving at a very creepy Karel Capek sort of pace. There are archives being set-up from organizations like Rhizome (remember when that website was popular? I’m kidding!) and the Internet Archive that are imperative in helping preserve early works of art online. Artist, (not liked) Ryder Ripps, even made an archive as art project in relation to this very conservational threat in an effort to archive early images from the Internet, Internet Archaeology dot org. And it’s at this point I’m feeling very dated myself recalling works of Internet art from the late 1990’s and 2000’s. Are artists even making Internet Art anymore? Lol

Don’t get stuck in your own time/line

Maybe making art today includes not only traditional methods but also choreographing a social media profile. Navigating a place for art to age gracefully. No matter where art goes, painters will still post art made IRL on social networks and surely it will always be “Amazing!!!” Gene McHugh, one of the coiners of the word Post Internet, stated on his Post Internet blog that no matter what medium, living in a Post Internet world means, all art inevitably concedes to the Internet-driven world.

Moreover it is not the art medium, but the artist who dies – sometimes while the person still lives.

S/O’s: I recommend taking a stroke from painters like Cheyenne Julien or touch some plaster like in Chloe Seibert’s sculptures.

Bottom line there’s nothing worse than a vampire stuck in their own timeline.


Beth, Is This A Pigeon?

GLOSSARY OF ACRONYMS and Internet terms and references

s/o – Shout Out
MEME – Make Everything My Entertainment (Acronym for the question asker)
Meme – Idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture—often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme.
Is This A Pigeon? A meme reference
Doxed – Having your real information revealed on the Internet
Karel Capek – Science fiction writer who wrote about robots evolving and taking over the world.