For those who aren’t already art-literate but would like to be, entering that world can be intimidating — the books too dry, the museums too stuffy, the experts too snobby. How do you make classical art speak to the contemporary condition? This was the question that inspired the founder of the Instagram account @drugowl. No, it’s not ornithological nor pharmaceutical. It’s a meme account that captions art-canon masterworks with comments about sexting and the munchies.
The founder of @drugowl, a museum curator and veteran of arts management and education who doesn’t want to risk their professional reputation, insists on anonymity. (Surprise, surprise: Some people in the museum world don’t have a sense of humor.) But the curator-cum-memer adds that they also just like “to keep the mystery going.”
The @drugowl account is fun and friendly. That means no lectures or history lessons, no lengthy captions, and no Latin or Italian technical terms you’d need an MFA to decipher. “I love art history and I love painting,” says @drugowl. “I thought, Why not give art history some captions about sex, lies, love, and insecurity?” There’s a desire to make high culture more accessible. “Museums and public spaces should be occupied for the enjoyment of its people,” says @drugowl. “We are the people.”
Sometimes the memes will make you laugh. Sometimes they might just make you smirk. Other times they’re just plain absurd. My personal favorite is an Arnold Böcklin painting from 1875, Idyll (Pan Amidst Columns), captioned simply, “This one is for Christina Aguilera.” I literally LOL’d when I first saw it.
Part of the fun of meme accounts is that they’re constantly recycling and innovating the same formats. Last year, at the height of the popularity of “yeah sex is cool but” memes, @drugowl did its own take, captioning a Fernando Botero painting, The Lovers (1960), featuring one of the Colombian painter’s signature thicc women (he was always painting ladies that today you could imagine captioning selfies “thick thighs save lives”). In the painting, the subject is in the foreground in the middle of dressing or undressing on a bed next to a smaller sleeping partner. The text reads: “Yea sexy sleep overs are cool but have you had stuff crust pizza?” I asked @drugowl founder about if its important for the account to closely follow meme trends. The response? “Time to die.”
What @drugowl makes me realize above all else is that the human condition today is a lot like the human condition was during the Romantic period, which was the same as the human condition during the Renaissance. “The big themes of life don’t change with time, only how you communicate about them,” says @drugowl. “Some things are timeless, such as love, war, regret, self-doubt, hopelessness, insecurity, drinking, and sex. The past is always present, and to think otherwise would be foolish.” In other words, Goya and Caravaggio stressed about a lot of the same things as we do, only they couldn’t do complain about it on Instagram. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof positive: