Tabloid Art History is a Twitter account with a simple premise – tabloid photographs paired with classic works of art which look similar, drawing comparisons between the two. What results is a fascinating gallery of Lindsay Lohan as a portrait by Lee Godie, the references to Hooper in Mad Max, and Princess Diana in that iconic revenge dress as Madame X by John Singer Sargent from almost a century before. This Twitter page has already been featured in all kinds of places including Vogue, and has recently released their very first zine, further exploring the links between contemporary “tabloid” imagery with the wider discourse of art history, proving that visual media of every level and popularity is valid for exploration. The creators of this account, Elise Bell, Chloe Esslemont and Mayanne Soret,were good enough to talk with me about their work on the medium in question – Twitter.
To start with definitions, where do you find that distinction between “Tabloid” visual media and “art”? How do you define what can be included in each category?
That’s a really interesting question because as this account has grown we’ve realised that it’s definitely something that is not necessarily fixed! So, for example, a red carpet/paparazzi shot or a Da Vinci painting are perhaps easy to slot into “tabloid/pop culture” and ”art” categories respectively, but a film still or photograph from an editorial spread are perhaps more malleable, or in between categories.
For the “tabloid” part, I think we started off with more purely or obviously tabloid pictures; off-duty celebrities, red carpet images, and reality TV snaps, but I think it’s growing toward a more nuanced mix of different types of pop culture: paparazzi shots, fashion photoshoots, video clips, and TV shows etc. Our original and main types of comparisons are images which look similar purely by accident, but it’s also interesting to explore direct or indirect visual references to art and art history in photoshoots, or how pop artists of today are referencing art history, especially when they use it to highlight artists outside of the established art history canon – like Solange does when referencing Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
You have recently announced the publication of your first in print zine. What motivated this decision? What can we expect from the first edition?
We were asked to be part of an exhibition put on by the collective Can’t Win Don’t Try, which was put on this past April. We decided that creating a zine as a part of that could be a really interesting idea, and a great way to bring onboard other voices, people and ideas. We’re really lucky that lots of amazing writers, artists, photographers and poets have submitted really cool work to this first zine – so hopefully what you can expect from it is to enjoy reading some really wonderful work, which includes topics such as an exploration of features common in both Beyoncé and Isabella d’Este, the British media’s marginalisation of Grime, a poem which reimagines Salome as a Kardashian, and how the way we view boybands has an Ancient Greek precedent!
How do you find people respond to the comparisons you make? Any surprising reactions?
It’s great to see the variety of what people enjoy. People react positively both to the funny pairings of tabloid pictures, and the more thought through video and film references. We have a good relationship with our followers too, they’re not shying away from telling us when they find us too repetitive or when we focus too much on the western canon, and that feedback is really valuable. Some people didn’t enjoy as much when we started to compare art with photo shoots and more constructed pop culture imagery rather than just paparazzi/red carpet images, but that’s part of the fun too, and just because the reference is more obvious doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring. It can be an interesting look at how we understand what makes our visual culture and how we consume images.
I love that this account changes the lens in which people view art history, and especially the way it expands the classic discourse through inclusion of alternative art forms and featuring of artists from BAME and other minority backgrounds. Did this account come as a response to current practices in the field of art history?
In regards to whether it’s a deliberate response to current practices in art history, it perhaps is becoming that – but honestly it really started primarily as a joke between us, a way to have fun with two of our major shared interests (art and pop culture), but as the account’s grown that’s definitely something that we have thought about more. It’s definitely a learning and unlearning process for us. We’ve been called out on our focus on the western art canon, and we’ve tried to build from there and widen our knowledge of art and artists to make it more varied, use our platform so it represents a more diverse history of art, and learn ourselves where we stand as art historians and consumers of images. In regards to alternative art forms, it’s not always easy including other forms of art than painting because of the format of the comparisons, but we’re trying to when we can. It can also be interesting to think of things such as film or television and where it fits into the pop culture and art categories: when I do a comparison which includes a Real Housewives screencap, that seems to fit into the pop culture, rather than art, category quite easily. But if I’m using a screencap of In the Mood for Love or Mad Men and comparing it to a painting, it doesn’t necessarily fit into just pop culture or art as easily, it has elements of both.