The Meme as Art: Painter Sophisticates Cyberculture

There are artists who find inspiration in majestic landscapes or beautiful women — and then there are artists who find inspiration in the Internet

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There are artists who find inspiration in majestic landscapes or beautiful women — and then there are artists who find inspiration in the Internet. Take Lauren Kaelin, the artist behind our new favorite Tumblr, which takes popular memes and turns them into paintings.

Kaelin dubbed the project Benjameme, named for German art theorist Walter Benjamin, who analyzed the democratization and reproducibility of art. An apt connection, as the subjects of her paintings are highly reproducible viral stars ranging from Grumpy Cat and the IKEA monkey to the Ermahgerd girl and the more recent viral Prancercise lady.

(MORE: Internet Cats: Behind the Memes)

But instead of democratizing and reproducing art like Benjamin discussed in the 1930s, Kaelin seeks to reverse that by taking an already-mainstream image and “creating an aura or an original where none previously existed,” she told Mashable. “Benjamemes, aside from being a place of pure appreciation, is an opportunity to recontextualize these sensations as art objects and ultimately question why,” she said.

The “why” here, essentially, is why are we so drawn to Grumpy Cat or Texts from Hillary or Psy’s “Gangnam Style” dance? What makes a certain image so ripe for viral reproduction? Kaelin told Mashable that she’s not sure of the answer — but in the meantime, she’ll keep painting. We’ll never look at memes the same way again.

If you can’t get enough meme-art, you can buy prints of Kaelin’s work here.

MORE: Grumpy Cat Is Not Impressed by TIME’s Photo Shoot

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