Are LOLCats and Internet Memes Art? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios

Are LOLCats and Internet Memes Art? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios

Here’s an idea. Anyone who has
ever made a LOLcat has also made a work of art. So chances are if you’ve made
it this far on the Internet, you’ve probably seen
an internet meme. They take tons of different
forms– funny pictures of cats, dogs giving advice, people
wearing sunglasses, sad guys, happy guys, superheroes,
chickens, mermaids, Leroy Jenkins– Leroy! It’s as if there
are over 9,000– nah. Old meme is old. And anyone can do it. You just go online to some
quick meme generator thing, fill in some of your
personal experience, blam! You got a meme. But wait. People are creating
images and sharing them with strangers for the
purpose of communicating their personal experiences? That, my friends, is
art, plain and simple. OK, we understand that
meme makers would probably refuse the title of artist. They’re a very modest bunch. But some of history’s
biggest thinkers might take one look at Socially
Awkward Penguin and say “art.” For instance, literary giant
Leo Tolstoy says the following. “To evoke in oneself a feeling
one has once experienced and having evoked it in oneself,
then by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds,
or forms expressed in words so to transmit that
feeling that others experience the same feeling, this
is the activity of art.” He didn’t know it,
but Tolstoy was writing about internet culture. And on top of that,
Aristotle talks about the artist planning
and then executing an act of catharsis. Fuuuu– And if there’s
anything that this stuff is, it’s cathartic. User-generated culture is kind
of like Andy Warhol’s factory in hyperdrive. It’s a high-speed
collaboration between people recombining popular media,
advertising, everything into new forms. And the art exists almost
entirely independently of any particular artist. The originator is
almost a novelty. So we have Tolstoy, Aristotle,
and Warhol on our side. Of course, there will be some
people who will disagree. Philosophers Immanuel
Kant and David Hume might say that Internet
memes don’t count as art because they’re not beautiful. I for one disagree. [CHORAL MUSIC] British historian
R. G. Collingwood might say that Internet memes
are the performance of emotion and not its true
expression, making meme makers ranters and
ravers and not actual artists. That actually makes some sense. There are maybe 100 reasons
both for and against, but what’s exciting
is that this is a body of work produced
collaboratively by tens, maybe hundreds of thousands
of people across the globe. Anyone can get involved. That’s something we’ve
never seen before. That’s pretty astounding. What do you guys think? Do you think Internet
memes are works of art? Let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to subscribe. It’s right there. Hey, there were a lot of
comments on the Lana and Miku video. Let’s see what you
guys had to say. People clearly find Miku Hatsune
to be the more authentic pop star. A lot of people commented
that they didn’t even know who Lana Del Rey is. Snowedkami makes a
really good point about the labor that goes
into performing on stage. Charonchan makes a really
good case for Miku’s realness based upon the realness of
the people who create her. DINGOlord makes a really
awesome comparison between Miku and the animated
pop super group Gorillaz. Pooton wants to know where
we get our ideas from. Mostly our work is fueled
by coffee and sugary snacks. But we also want to
hear some of your ideas. What do you guys want
to see a show about? Send us an email. There’s a link in
the description. And to our friend Jonathan
Holmes at Destructoid, you’re welcome.


  • Matthew Jones says:

    I dislike Kant and I'm not familiar with Hume but like Mike said beauty is a relative term.

  • Meredith Caraher says:

    I know a guy named Art… is he art?

  • nicer boii says:

    well i dont dont think that every expression of emotion is art at all ….

  • matthew taylor says:

    I have watched a ton of these, and then came back to start at the beginning. Honestly this is the "first" fully formed episode, and damn its just about the best one. LOLStoy killed me.

  • megamegatron99 says:

    just came here to see the results of the previous vid

  • Alice Zhou says:

    meme is not art, art should evoke inspiration and be thought provoking, meme only goes viral when it's funny. Art evoke a wide range of emotions and is not spread based on how funny it is.

  • GForceFGT says:

    stop glorifying internet culture so much… it's embarrassing

  • Monica Rocha says:

    what separates art from illustration is what separates art from memes. But really, art isn't a category to begin with, so fuck it.

  • jackisnotafish says:

    could you not look at the whole internet as "art" if you go along with your argument. just a thought

  • MorroWolf says:

    there are a lot of definitions for art, tolstoy's isnt absolute, check out Danto's and Marcuse's theories on art, Kant is a douche, the man was a chauvinistic idiot. In a broad sense I would say memes are art though not every attempt at a meme or painting for that matter rises to the level of art.

  • KippursMC says:

    And if you ever made a lol cat you should probably take a swig of bleach.

  • ConfusedGamer21 says:

    A very shitty form of art if it is one

  • Veal Marsala says:

    Yes, but the shittiest form of art in the modern world

  • Tyler says:

    it's over nine thousand!

  • waylon sherman says:


  • Jeff Clayton says:

    I accept my title as artist. you can find my art on cheezburger under jeffeljefe27.
    Also, my memes are awful.

  • Alex Moonstone says:

    Just outside my house there is a grass field. On that grass field they have randomly placed red cubes and called them meteors. How's that for shitty art?

  • Kevan Bianco says:


  • kainhighwind2 says:

    We need Mike's "FFFUUUUUUUU" face GIFed.

  • MrAcuriteOf1337 says:


  • Diwd7 says:

    those dots say DEAL WITH IT

    its called braille

  • coolethanps2 says:

    1:00 always makes me crack up

  • David B says:

    Great art.

  • David cairns says:


  • Lilichi says:

    There is all sorts of art.. I used to think only beautiful works are art, but I guess the word can be used for a very wide range of things.. everything made that involves at least a bit of creativity..? in that sense, everything can be art.. I consider nature art to, in some sense.. although it was not created by humans, perhaps by god, if one believes.

  • fivewordsthatiwrote says:


  • MsEeveeMaster says:

    ITS OVER 9000 please do a video on how that became one of the most quoted lines ever. i bet more people have heard that line than seen that scene

  • GForceFGT says:

    Everything gets called art these days so why not.

  • DRAGONAUTA StonerRocker says:

    for me art is something that is made from a lot of work and mind spiced with a lot of imagination and a load of creativity to add the "WHOA" factor

  • Connor Harrison says:

    I had to watch this video twice due to looking at all the pictures

  • Phoenix Fire says:

    It's art for anything can be art the fact that a cup is always full weather it be full of air or water does not matter. It is, has been, and will always be art. A mere statement can affect millions positively or negatively. It doesn't matter if it's physical or mental. It doesn't even matter if you care about it at all. It is art. Perhaps even in it's purest form.

  • th3giv3r says:

    Purple under-eyes here is a bona fide potsmoker. Baahhh-ng!

  • MondayMorningPress says:

    I think memes are under the umbrella of joke, and not art.

  • MissPuddings says:

    Basically it's MoMA except on the internet… Wait, same thing.

  • FartMaster69 says:

    No. They aren't even technically memes, it's just stupid people repeating the same joke over and over because other people think it's funny. That's a meme in the same way satire is ironic.

  • Mega Mawile says:

    Everything is art, its whether it is quality or not in the end that determines it.

    This guy pretty much is captain "Say something could be something for attention"".

  • Devin Ward says:

    I think that a whole meme is art, but a particular meme image isn't. For example, "aliens" guy would count as art, but a picture of "aliens" guy saying "I don't know; therefore aliens" is just a part of the artwork, and not art on it's own.

  • Ben Ramsey says:

    Eat crayons. Poop rainbows. GENIUS

  • Joakim Smith says:

    , z z, ,s

  • aantonides says:

    so that's what is up with that stupid penguin.

  • Tristan Phillips says:

    "Vegeta, what's his power level?"
    "It's… It's over eight thousand!"
    This is the actual number, so shove that up you meme and post it on facebook

  • Fridtjof Eikanger says:

    This video is a work of art…

  • Blazz171 says:

    when a dot counts a art this makes sense

  • daddrus says:

    I wish I could hug the internet

  • Maric says:

    why would you do ads … o0

  • Stephen Mesko says:

    Artists abandoned the idea that art has to be pretty long ago. So no argument fro me.

  • nicoleviktoria says:

    This guy is so clever omg

  • Lynnden42 says:

    To quote an old teacher of mine "someone hung a pig in a car and let it rot for 3 days, came back, and took a picture of it hanging over a building with a crane and called it art" so if this can be construed as art, then certainly memes are most certainly art

  • Will you meet me Emily Rudd? says:

    My name is a meme: DanielLukeBarth ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh yeagh

  • hey vsauce says:

    You guys are fringing awesome!!

  • EWKification says:

    No, they are not art. It's not that complicated. If I brush my teeth, I don't call myself a dentist. If I make a sandwich, I'm not a chef. If I take a picture with my phone, I'm not a photographer. If I make a card castle, I'm not an architect. If I clap my hands, I'm not a mixed martial artist. The thing is, you actually need to be good at it to call yourself an artist.

  • sdmitch16 says:

    Can someone tell me what is art? Also, the purpose of art would be nice too.

  • Mathias Faigh Larsen says:

    If "folklore" is considered art, well then memes are art in some way – but the artists so to speak would be the one who invented (so to speak) a meme (examples: "Bad joke ell" "Lolcat" and "Confession Bear") not the one who makes a version of this meme.

  • Mikari Star says:

    Maybe they didn't start as art but later become art…

  • Alexander Loncar says:

    So… is this art too? Seems like it.

  • Coldsteak says:

    No, they're garbage.

  • Enrique Yanez says:

    I actually do, I believe,  like was said in the video, that art is an expression of feeling. It takes a form that people can interpret – being something of an artist myself. If it makes you feel (unlike the squares, circles, and smudgy blotches of todays 'modern art') than it is art to me.

  • GoldenGodlyGrunt says:

    yes they are O.O

  • TimeFlies says:

    i made art?! yayyyyyyyyyyy

  • Sangheilitat117 says:

    "Anyone who's ever made a lolcat, has also made a work of art."
    You sir, are a fucking idiot.

  • sgt saltstick says:

    its beautyful

  • barryasswipe says:

    I think Immanuel Kant and David Hume were pretty much on the spot…

  • DevUltraa says:

    As someone who spends as much of my free time as possible either drawing or constructing various forms of music, I don't really care about the idea of "art".

    It seems like most of the people who I've met in my life who talk about "art" from a professional standpoint, are very biased and boring people. 

  • Mitchell McGill says:

    What is the difference between the performance of emotion and the true expression of emotion? 

  • Frank says:

    This is just offensive.

  • stephen terry says:

    holy crap im an artist! WORSHIP ME! WORSHIP MEEEEEEE!

  • Targa7W says:

    aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa NIHILISM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Wow so much negativity man, this post is art, why, because I say so.

    And Hume and Kant are being elitist douches, beauty = art, please is Picaso's  Guernica in anyway beautiful, no. Is it doing the job of being art total yes. Hume and Kant might have some smart stuff to say in their fields, but they evidently aren't smart enough to not talk rubbish about stuff they're smart enough to not talk about.

    I refer you back to my opening statement.

  • Ruka Erika says:

    Question: is there anything that can't be defined as art ?

  • omer dassa says:

    well, meme are language. you can argue that a meme is a work of art in the same way this comment is.technically- true. fundamentally- not really.

  • CAP198462 says:

    There's a great British philosopher that's missing, Jeremy Clarkson. He said "For a thing to be art, it must have no purpose other than itself." Therefore, an Internet meme which is an also an argument is not art. The Mona Lisa is art because it does nothing except hang on a wall, it doesn't advertise a product, or obviously argue a point.

  • C.R. Perkins says:

    Me being an actual artist I can not agree.

  • Rby Wpn says:

    Of course is art! It's not cience.

  • Kuriiro says:

    I heard the Tetris theme an instantly ignored everything else.

  • Mr. Jones Art says:

    Shared this with my high school drawing classes in the wake of the "Pepe the Frog on Ebay" news. Much discussion centered around the idea of of who gets to qualify something as art.  Does the creator get to say, "This is some art! It's good!" Does this stand even if no one agrees? What about the opposite: if the creator feels they made something inferior (as in, a terrible painting), but others find meaning in it, is it art?  
    Is it the connection with another that makes it meaningful, or can art be truly created & appreciated by oneself? How much say does the public have?

    Another interesting point brought up is the value of art.  If a product is too abundant it seems to have less value (or is, at least, taken for granted).  With meme culture, much is stagnant, recycled, or barely original.  Anything new, funny, and uniquely clever [can be] quickly shared until it winds up old hack like all the rest.  The "shelf life" of an individual meme is almost non-existent, but the good ones quickly become the architecture for future memes.
    Lastly, one student brought up the idea that an individual meme …might… be art (or at least BAD art), whereas memes, as a whole, may be more of an artistic process.
    Kind of like how there's SCULPTURE – the process – and there's, Ming vases, Rodan statues, and gift shop coffee mugs – all types of sculpture.

  • gartman222 says:

    watching this 3 years later, its a lot harder to watch with the outdated memes.

  • CubedPotatoesHD says:

    the pictures with text are image macros, not memes.

    However an image macro can be a meme.

  • Tina M Neely says:


  • RH Cannon says:

    memes would be a form of low art or art that conveys a message. I view it as digital graffiti (another misunderstood art form). this week anonymous held trolling day, I personally produced over 50 anti daesh memes and posted them directly on the pages of daesh(isis) soldiers. My art just became propaganda thus illustrating how the meme captures the zeitgeist of our time….long story short of an artist says its art its art….. do you even dada, bro?
    check out my work on twitter

  • 5StarGames We Make Games, You Play Them says:

    I used to be called art like you, until i took an arrow to the knee.

  • Abby Kurtz says:

    What? No Pacman metaphors? ;D

  • DanniGoesViral says:

    So what you're telling me is… sex can be art?

  • Alice Kremers says:


  • Abdul Mudassir Gaffari Mohammed says:

    I would say that memes do count as art, but the lack of beauty means that it is bad art.

  • Idea of the Day says:

    I think the real key to being a Meme Artist isn't just applying a cool sentence to an image we've seen online a thousand times, but to the people who originally found or created the images that inspired them to see their potential.

    There are millions of Grumpy Cat Memes out there, but the first person who realized she looked "grumpy" and posted the first Meme saying so is a million times more of an artist who creates one today.

    The same is true for over 99.99% of the Memes we see online. Most not only use the same exact photos, but their captions are only marginally different.

  • thatthinker says:

    I was really happy to be told that I made art, but then I remembered all my art projects from school

  • Dogbone tv says:


  • TheEqui Nox says:

    Fark! Now I have to listen to Nyan Cat!

  • Eli Berdinner says:

    Memes are folklore/folk art/folk performance

  • Yoshi Kant says:

    I had always thought internet memes as the new age art. I really enjoy looking at memes the same way someone might enjoy frequenting an art gallery

  • eaglepies says:

    Yeah R G Collingwood got it right

  • MrQuidestveritas says:

    Gombrich is the opening paragraph of his book 'the story of art' says 'there is no such thing as art, only the Artist' pointing out that Art is something that is indivisible from the artist. So if the work could be exactly produced by someone else, it may be 'craft' like a well made chair or a cup of coffee or even a pile of bricks, it isn't art. Even if it is displayed in an art gallery and bought and sold in an art shop. The latin word Ars that art is derrived from means skill. while clever idea make take creativity and inginuety, and be conceptually genius, it is still not art. What is art is the skilled use of a medium conveying an experience that is identifiable and unique to an individual who made it intdnsionally as art.. Internet clip art with a slogan typed on are hardly this. The problem is to call everythkng 'art' in an attempt to give it more value, or the person making it an 'artist' thus giving them value then the term 'Art' looses its meaning and power. Everyone who presses a button on their phone then becomes a photographer making 'art' along with every person who sticks glitter on the card they just made for thier grandma. Long ago the title 'gentleman' meant something specific about the persons ownership of land. Now, at least in the UK , its main use is a word for the mens bathroom, and a vague way of describing politeness. Artist and art is suffering a sililar yet more petentious death. Lets try to save the term for a des ription of something deeply worth saving done by brave souls with who res ue us from our mundane blindness.

  • nismo510 says:

    I even think those cool ASCII comments are art!

  • JDoc says:

    I come from the future….
    We are turning into insect-like beings…
    The Hive-Mind is everywhere and the temptation to stay logged in directly in your mind irresistible…

    The Memes have won.

  • plumear says:

    watching old idea channel videos…. i love that LOLstoy quote

  • h.p thing says:

    memes are art and king

  • Rigatonia says:

    Are contemporary memes metamodernist comedy?

  • rpf2 says:

    The EU is going to out law memes, to me they are art in it's most flamboyant and thought -provoking way. stirring emotions over time they frequently change grow and come to full bloom and die off only to be reborn anew almost as the flowers do in your garden . Come take a new look at this art before it is put on the bond fire .

  • mickeynotmouse says:

    The most outdated idea channel video lmao

  • Luis Hinojosa says:

    These memes aged terribly

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