From the canon of art history, there are a few artworks so over-shared, over-used, and over-imitated that they have been reduced to nothing more significant than a photo of a grumpy cat.
If I see one more iteration of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” I’m going to scream – Edvard Munch style! (See what I did there?)
The latest offense, shared in the Washington Post’s In the Galleries section, is a new exhibition at the D.C. Arts Center called Sip and Paint: Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” where 34 artists have created variations on the original (or maybe they have made a variation on a copy, I can’t tell the difference anymore). Really though?! Don’t these 34 artists have better things to do?
If you’re not sure if an artwork falls into the too-often-imitated category, here’s an interesting litmus test: Can you have your hair colored like the painting?
The idea of artists imitating famous artworks is not new. (Feel free to read that “not original.”) Marcel Duchamp created a meme-worthy version of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa almost a hundred years ago. A significant difference between this and other imitations is the reason for doing it.
In 1919, Marcel Duchamp drew a moustache and goatee with a pencil on a post card reproduction of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, and named his work “L.H.O.O.Q.” This, when read aloud in French, gives “Elle a chaud au cul”, which means something like “She’s got hot pants” or “She has a hot ass.” He used an image, reproduced so often that it had become trite and mocked one of the most famous works in the history of painting.
Key in the quote above is that the image had been “reproduced so often that it had become trite.” If an artist’s purpose in copying a historical work is to poke fun at how often it is copied, then have at it! But reproduction is happening with less appropriate purpose, AND IN CLASSROOMS NO LESS!
Art teachers are guilty and we need to stop! If you have students create any copy of a master artwork (or if you get together with your art teacher colleagues to do the same… I’m talking to you NVAEA) make sure you are honest with yourself, and with your students. You are not creating art, you are creating a meme. And you are probably spending far too much precious instructional time reproducing something that has been reproduced a thousand times. Save the time, save the effort, use a meme generator app instead of wasting paint.