Memes are the art movement of this generation – This is Art

By Jack Rechsteiner, managing editor.

What is going to be the great art movement that defines the beginning of the 21st century? I think that we’re living through it right now, and it is memes.

Memes have been around for a while now. If you look at the how memes have evolved ever since internet culture took off in the early 2000s, we’ve seen rather straightforward, funny memes of LOLcats and Rickrolling gradually turn into a wildly surreal culture of abstract sarcasm and in-jokes, like “All Star” by Smash Mouth, Whomst, I have the high ground Anakin, Renaissance art memes, Vaporwave, John Cena, ANGERY, Bone Apple Tea and so many others that will all probably be old by the time this article comes out. They’re jokes with almost no joke attached to them. They’re ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous. They’re confusing to the point that they raise more questions than they answer. And they are art that defies all preconceived notions.

Just in the past few years we’ve seen headlines from mainstream news source like “‘Trump’s behavior similar to male chimpanzee,’ says Jane Goodall,” “Is Ted Cruz the Zodiac Killer? Maybe, says 38 percent of Florida voters,” and “Harambe: Stop making memes of our dead gorilla, Cincinnati Zoo pleads.” So already we’re seeing the absurdism and senselessness of the world in this day and age just in news headlines alone.

Disenfranchised American millennials and Generation Z-ers have been living through a time where their country has been involved in a long, ethically debatable and terrifyingly ambiguous war in the Middle East, an economic recession that was caused by wealthy elites who were not held accountable and an unequal distribution of wealth that’s worse than anything we’ve seen before. Millennials and Gen Z-ers have had to experience that at the same time that police brutality, school shootings and extremist violence are all on the rise, and older generations are accusing them of laziness, even though they’re the generations that caused all these problems in the first place. This kind of life and world reality have given the youth of this era a similar mindset to the one that Dada artists had during the horrors of World War I.

Dada art was made by people who lived in a world where nothing made sense. They watched as the logic of leaders brought them into the senselessness of the first World War. So people began to make art that made no sense, it was anti-art that went against the conventions of the society that had started World War I. Artists did weird things like putting things together and calling it sculpture, like Man Ray’s “Gift” that was a hand-iron with tacks glued to it, or subverting the idea of what art could be, like Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” where he took a porcelain urinal, signed it and put it on display in a museum.

Dada artists sought to overturn traditional bourgeois ideas of art and deliberately craft things that were nonsense and confusing. In the same way the absurdist humor of Dada art moved through art displays and museums, we’re now seeing memes being shared across the nebulous internet of social media. Memes are our way of tearing apart the dominant social society through the discourse of the absurd and the surreal. If a tutorial video of someone slamming eggs on their counter gets over a million views, what differentiates that from something on display in the MoMA? Memes are an easily shareable art form that lets disenfranchised youth express their frustration, hopelessness and dissatisfaction with the modern age. They’re a coping mechanism for a world that we’re being told we should understand but we can’t.

Considering that Dada is now a historically recognized art movement, I don’t see much difference between attaching tacks to the bottom of an iron to make it useless and putting a MacBook in a bathtub to satirize bath bombs. The world has fallen apart. Nobody cares anymore. So, you want something funny? Here’s a heavily edited photo of Lord Farquaad from Shrek saying the letter E. You want a punchline? Watch a video with distorted audio of a guy ordering a boneless pizza. That’s satirical art that makes as much sense as anything else in this decade.

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