Sunday, 28 February 2016

Classical art memes

Mum loves jokes - like all of us. Well almost all of us. I guess there will come a time when, for Mum and me, humour won't work anymore.

Meantime, my mother still gets the daily newspaper delivered to her room. Several times a day she studies the headlines, browses a few stories and checks out all the death notices. “I always read the family announcements,” says Mum. “It’s important to see what’s happening with my contemporaries.”

She also shares the occasional cartoon, with whoever’s around.


There’s one cartoon Mum particularly likes - a series of wry observations on children and parenting. Called The Little Things www.littlethings.co.nz - it’s nothing more than a few words alongside simple line drawings of children and their exasperated parents.

It’s a great formula for Mum. The whole joke contained in a single frame. Instantly recognisable behaviours. Nothing here that’s much different from when my mother had young children and nothing that relies on recent memory.

A couple of weeks back, Mum was sitting on my sofa, knitting. Her granddaughter Harriet was flicking mindlessly through her Facebook feed. “Look Nanny,” she said. “You might like these.” She shuffled across and introduced my mother to Classical Art Memes - cartoons featuring well-known classical paintings with modern, ironic quotes inserted as text.

The first was a self-portrait by Van Gogh. The one of him with the extra-large ear. ‘When you hear your name in a conversation’ said the text. This was followed by Rembrandt’s dark, brooding self-portrait. ‘If it it ain't Baroque, don’t fix it.’ Harriet and her grandmother were highly amused. They spent a happy half hour searching up the best examples they could find.

When Mum’s birthday came around, Harriet knew exactly what to make - a special collection of classical art memes.

“Great idea,” I said, then warned her against making a book. “Your grandmother will read it once then put it away. You need something like a calendar. Something designed to go on display.”

So Harriet settled on the desk calendar format, spiral-bound, with one classical art meme for each month of the year. She set to work, choosing the most recognisable art works and culling anything too rude or obscure. It took quite a while.

By the time the calendar had been ordered and arrived, we were already a couple of days post-birthday. Harriet picked it up and hurried round to the rest home.

To say Mum loved it would be a huge understatement. She adored it. The calendar was so well produced, Mum was convinced it had been bought ready-made. Harriet tried, but failed, to explain the concept of customised, cut-and-paste calendars. But Mum was too busy checking it out.

“I’m delighted,” said Mum, leafing through the calendar for the third time. Then she flicked back to the start and went through it all over again.

“You know dear,” said Mum. “I recognise all of those paintings.” She put the calendar down.

“It’s lovely! You completely understand my sense of humour.”


“Laughter - the shortest distance between two people.”
- Victor Borge, 1909 - 2000, comedian, conductor and pianist.

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