CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Imagine, you’re walking through an art museum and you’re surrounded by cartoons and memes of current events. It’s not what you might expect for an art exhibit in 2022.
But turn back the clock a few hundred years or so you’ll find some people were doing the same thing, and now it’s art.
“This project is the culmination of about a decade of research. I started out working on my dissertation researching images of a politician who was executed after having a political fight. And as I was working on that, I was very surprised that the type of thing we normally associate with Dutch art, things like paintings by Vermeer of women and interiors, or images of sophisticated people by Rembrandt, or beautiful windmills in a landscape that all of this coexisted with a really robust news culture. Where people were not just being told about what happened and current events, but really given a spin. Being told how to think about and remember current events,” Maureen Warren, a curator of European and American art, said.
People in the 17th century Dutch Republic, they were making their very own political cartoons and memes. Like, big fish eat little fish.
“Big fish eat little fish is basically just a proverb. That means that a lot of times wealthy and powerful people will exploit less powerful people. So, they took this preexisting plate and just added the name of a politician who had recently been convicted of criminal charges and executed on this big gutted fish and just like a meme, you take a recognizable image that has a lot of humor and pep and interest and you immediately make it about political events and shape the way people are thinking about them,” she said. I think it’s so clever. I think it’s such a strong and powerful image and one that really we can all relate to and understand today.”
And there are so many pieces like this. So much so they’ve made an exhibit at the Krannert Art Museum.
“We have just opened the exhibition. Fake news and Lying pictures. A show that investigates political printmaking in the 17th century,” Warren said.
You can see current meme culture and political cartoons have been around for centuries.
“When people visit the exhibition, they’ll see a lot of examples of many of the types of political image making and methods that we see today. Only in works about 400 years ago, recycling of images. Ridiculing people by making them look foolish. The same types of things we might see in political cartoons today,” she said.
From poking fun at individual politicians or leaders. To calling out entire countries and starting full-blown wars.
That’s the history of these prints and the history, they said, feels all too familiar today.
“You know, a lot of people are very surprised. I mean, we’ve reiterated that there are strong parallels between things like political cartoons and newspapers or even memes on the internet. But I think when they finally get in and start seeing the examples, it’s still a surprise that 400 years ago, the same types of techniques were at use,” she said.
To learn more about the art exhibit and other things happening. You can visit their website here.