I presented the paper “[Re]using Paintings in the Network Society” in the 2nd conference of Digital Humanities in Nordic Countries, held in Gothenburg, Sweden. The paper aimed to understand the acceptable online behaviour in people’s perception in reusing paintings as memes.

The word meme was introduced by Dawkins (1989, p. 92)  to explain a concept of culture. He noted that meme is the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. Further, Oxford dictionary defines meme as “a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users” to spread particular idea (Colin & Knobel, 2007).

I began this study by classifying the memes according to the alterations. There are five broad typologies of memes. Based on these typologies, I launched a survey using google forms to understand people’s perceptions. So far, I have collected 117 responses from 22 countries. Of these 117 respondents 60% are female and 24% work in art, culture and heritage sector.

The respondents were given memes and were asked to rate how acceptable the transformation was. The graphs below each type, represents that more people think it is acceptable to add captions to the paintings.

  1. The first kind is simplest, the paintings have a caption to attribute the painting with a new meaning, as you can see from the images.
  2. Paintings with inserted texts. The text could be in the form of a conversation or a thought, or a tagline.  
  3. The next alteration is a bit more complex. In this case, the paintings are photoshopped. The paintings are not only altered but also text is inserted in them. The paintings are altered- often replaced by something relevant to the message the image intends to convey. As you see from the images below, the expression on the faces has been changed. In some reused paintings, it becomes more difficult understand to which is the original.    
  4. Mimicking a painting- imitating its gestures. This is perhaps a very popular form. Personally, I have seen many young people in the museums mimicking paintings and sculptures.
  5. Lastly, cropping of paintings is also an alteration. As you have seen in previous examples and also in this one.


I also asked the respondents, if they had any comments on these alterations. The text in green in the image below shows the positive comments such as these alterations were very funny and harmless. Some of them had a negative reaction too which is highlighted in red.


To conclude, people freely use images available on the internet, and worry less about copyright and origin. All the alterations are more acceptable in people’s perception. This confirms finding of (Hill et al 2010, Lessig 2008) that the digital generation is heading towards remix culture. What implication it has on the understanding of paintings or policy of institutions is a subject of further research.