the genius twitter account turning paparazzi shots into masterpieces

Because, let’s face it, Kim K selfies and Beyoncé birth announcements are basically art.

by Roisin Lanigan
21 July 2017, 2:20pm

This article was originally published by i-D UK.

"If through the account we could get someone into art history then that would fill us with so much joy" says Art History graduate Elise Bell, one of the three curators of @tabloidarthistory

When Elise, Chloe Esslemont, and Mayanne Soret started the Twitter account as a "labor of love" in December, they had no idea their hobby would be so successful, but just a few months later they've amassed over 10,000 followers. "At first we were followed by our friends and our moms and that's it", says Elise, who's just finished studying History of Art at University of Edinburgh. "The fact that's grown and people are enjoying it is lovely. At least now we know we're not the only ones who want to see a wasted 00s Paris Hilton compared to a Rosetti."

Their labor of love, Tabloidarthistory, is the Twitter account celebrating the beauty and artistry in pop culture moments, whether that's comparing North West to a Velasquez painting, or finding the haunting similarities between Munch's The Scream and Marcel off of Love Island's facial expressions. And frankly, the account is a masterpiece itself. We slid into their DMs to ask the girls celebrating low-brow pictures in a high-brow way about art, feminism, and why we're so entranced by Kardashian selfies.

Read: This Instagram account compares Young Thug to historical paintings.

Why do you think people are so interested in seeing tabloid shots and social media selfies reflected in art?
I think it lies in how we're merging so called "low-brow" pop culture images with "high-brow" historical art images. We hate that the two are seen as mutually exclusive when there's so many instances of celebrity culture taking cues from art history. The separation only reinforces the idea that art history is classist and elitist. People can have their fix of tabloid culture and also appreciate art.

Has creating this made you view paparazzi shots differently -- do you see them with more beauty now?
There's definitely a forgotten, unacknowledged artistry in tabloid shots. Some of the most iconic images of the past 50 years have been taken from paparazzi. The drama and composition of tabloid photography is so easily reminiscent of the Renaissance or French Romantic era of art. It definitely adds another layer to these images and makes you see them in a different light.

What about the social media selfies you include from people like the Kardashians or Beyoncé. They're often the kind of photos women get a lot of backlash for posting online. Do you think selfies are art? Or are they just ruining us attention-hungry millennials.
Social media pics are arguably the most interesting to us from an artistic perspective. The joy in tabloid shots is the accidental similarities, but when you see a staged pic of Kim, Beyoncé, Mariah, even early Madonna, you get a sense of how celebrities use art history as a way to curate their own visual identity and legacy.

Of course you're always going to get socially conservative individuals who see that as threatening; who see a woman owning her own image as something to hate or mock. We look at Titian's Venus D'Urbino as the greatest beauty, but a nude selfie by Kim Kardashian suddenly makes her a slut, an attention-seeker, and an awful human. The base difference is that one was made by a man, one was created by a woman in control of herself.

What's your finest work so far?
Our top ones are Mariah Carey compared to Gates of Dawn by Herbert Draper, Spice Girls with les Demoiselles, Britney with Caravaggio, Trump with Francis Bacon, and really any of our Anna Nicole Smith comparisons. Showing the world Anna Nicole Smith as Venus really sums up what we do best.

What do you guys do IRL when you're not examining Mariah Carey and Paris Hilton's artistic merit?
We're just three very stressed out students and graduates who love art. We work as gallery merch assistants and waitresses, and the account is just a way for us to relieve stress. We also work on different projects trying to raise awareness of elitism in art history and eradicate that. You could say the @tabloidarthistory account feeds into our passion of making art history as accessible as possible without taking itself too seriously. A kind of "fuck you" to the ridiculous pretension of it all.

So when are you making this into the inevitable coffee table book?
No coffee table plan right now, but we are in the process of creating a zine following an exhibition we did with Can't Win Don't Try at the Kamio in Shoreditch. We know everyone's doing a zine these days, but we wanted to make one which merges academic art history and pop culture. But you know, if any publishers want to slide into our DMs and help us make a fancy coffee table book, feel free.

Until then, you can use @tabloidarthistory to justify your love of so-called trashy pop culture photos by seeing them as high-art. That's all the creators of the account really want. "Well", Elise add, "that and to get an RT from Paris Hilton."

Read: A girl's guide to looking good in every picture.


Text Roisin Lanigan

art history
tabloid art history