With every culture and every generation, there are artistic elements which do not gain widespread recognition until after their passage. Famous names like Vincent van Gogh, for instance, never gained appreciation until post-mortem. Often, art styles simply remain unrecognized by the masses.
Merriam-Webster defines art as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic options.” It’s seen as something that defines classical examples, such as Renaissance or neoclassic art, as well as modern examples like Dada or pop art. In this regard, memes in fact serve as a generational expression of art.
Art evolves with its medium, and has continued to do so in the internet age. Where previously an artist’s materials were often limited to oil paints and graphite, the digital era has led to a more versatile medium. While more time-consuming art can be created via expensive programs like Adobe Suite, memes can be created in easily accessible free programs such as MS Paint or Inkscape.
Like any artform, memes can be both good and bad — and therein lies the problem. Many who would choose to attack memes cite only those made without effort or passion. Consider how many Renaissance paintings or artists you’re aware of. For every artist or painting created, there are endless others whose works and namesakes have been forgotten. Every artform contains artists who fail to stand out, but this does not lessen the impact of the artist nor the artform. We’ve all seen those Minions memes on Facebook, and most can agree that the creators of those are soulless and dispassionate. At the same time, there are plenty of quality memes out there. They’re the ones that make you laugh, that you send to your friends, that you bring up in conversation with others. They are impactful, and can be tailored toward any community.
Searching for firsthand experience, the writers of this piece engaged in hands-on analysis by starting an Instagram meme page called “Artememe Panarin” (@ArtememePanarin) dedicated to memes about the Columbus Blue Jackets NHL team. Within a couple of days, it’s already on its way to a triple-digit following, bolstered by a community of people who love hockey with a comedic twist.
In examining the accounts of other individuals who produce similar content, the artists clearly have passion for their work and their audience. It’s an emotional expression through images, and can be about any topic under the sun. It’s a performance borne of the modern age expressing joy, anguish and all emotions in between. Memes can make us laugh, cry and even pay attention to serious topics. We remember the good ones as we would a piece of classical art, and criticize the bad as we would less-than-stellar art. We already treat them like art, so we may as well embrace the fact that they are.