The Art of Memes - revolutionising the Art world

By Kristy MacFarlane

Richard Dawkins “Meme”,  Imgflip, 2016.

Richard Dawkins “Meme”, Imgflip, 2016.

Richard Dawkins, atheist and famous author, first coined the term meme in his seminal work, the Selfish Gene – a word he denoted as meaning; an imitated thing. From there, “memes” swiftly took over the world, in a way he doubtlessly predicted. Now in 2019, we live in an era of memes, it’s impossible to scroll through Facebook without seeing one, and perhaps even harder not to tag your friend in one as you do. It is in this way that memes are spread, like a cold in a crowded lecture theatre, they are passed from student to student until they have reached every corner of the world. Even Dawkins himself has become the focus of his very own terminology, proving that memes are inescapable as a feature of our modern life.

As memes infiltrate much of popular culture, it is unsurprising too that they have infiltrated the art scene. One of the biggest players in this is Classical Art Memes, a Facebook page that has over 5 million followers. When we consider that the Tate Modern has only 1 million followers – we can understand the true reach of memes within the art world. For many people,Classical Art Memes are their only tether to the artistic fold. We might consider the connotations of the art world as “highbrow” and “high class”. Constructed in this is the idea that Art is something unattainable and unwelcoming to those from lower classes. Historically, the art world has functioned this way. High costs of canvases, paints, and free time have made it the leisure of only a select few. In addition, meanings are hidden under intense layers of ambiguity that require research to dissect and much of the subjects in classical works are aristocratic. The average person has no time in their day for art – there are so many other things to be done. Even in our modern-age, works are often incomprehensible and are important only because of the price tag attached to their frame. 

Do You Love Me , Classical Art Memes, 2019.

Do You Love Me, Classical Art Memes, 2019.

Overarching in all of this is a sense that Art is exclusionary, that it exists for a select few. We must deconstruct this and our vehicle for doing so comes in an unlikely disguise: memes. 
Classical Art Memes has broadened the appeal of art and has arguably been more successful than any expensive auction or exhibition. It has taken something “high” and made it tangible, it has taken Art from its lofty position in the clouds and returned it to earth. Memes can be enjoyed by anyone, even those without an understanding of the thousand or so artistic movements that have occurred over our tempestuous history. While enjoyment of Art History memes often come from the combination of often odd-looking figures and relatable text – there is also a benefit. As someone scrolls throughClassical Art Memes, they might see a painting they like. One single painting like the one shown above might invoke an interest, an interest that persists enough to draw that person to an art gallery. Maybe, they pick up a paint-brush, or go to a life drawing class. With more people from a variety of different walks of life interested in art, the Art World will become richer and much more multifaceted. 

Edinburgh National Gallery , Photograph.

Edinburgh National Gallery, Photograph.

Wouldn’t it be nice for Art Galleries to be places of conversation like the Classical Art Memes page? Places where you could go with your friends and laugh and talk about the works, instead of having an invigilator shush you angrily for coughing too loudly? Art must be opened. Something radical has to be done, or in a few years interest in Art will fade away. Dressed in an adidas hoodie and trainers at the age of twelve; visiting the Edinburgh National Gallery was an intimidating experience. It was an experience that nearly put me off my interest in art. I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong there, and I carried nothing from that experience into my everyday life. Even now enjoying art as I do, I find Classical Art Memes a much more enjoyable way to connect to the artistic fold. I can share it with my friends, I can talk about it, and there’s no tight-lipped lady judging my attire. 

Memes cannot change all of this alone. They can invoke interest, but they cannot sustain it. State schools need to put Michelangelo and Raphael on their Syllabuses. The government needs to fund our hugely-underfunded Art Departments. Art Galleries, while most are largely free, need to become more welcoming and conversational places that people actually want to go to.  The Art World needs a revolution. You can check out Classical Art Memes at


Blackmore, Susan, “The Power of Memes” in The Scientific American, Vol 284, No.4 (October 2000) p.52-62 Accessed on 12/03/2019 Accessed at