Artwork: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holding a basketball, portrait by Andy Warhol, 1977 // Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavs during a game, c.2014. Courtesy of TabloidArtHistory.
“Everything has already been done,” Stanley Kubrick opined “Every story has been told. Every scene has been shot. It’s our job to do it one better.”
Perhaps this is true—perhaps it is not. It’s impossible to know that which has never existed until it takes form. But one thing is for sure, and that’s the power of myth, which speaks of human nature’s relentless desire to find a narrative that makes sense out of the chaos and complexities of existence.
David Bowie in 'The Man Who Fell to Earth', Dir. Nicolas Roeg c.1976 // Francis Bacon, 'Portrait of Michel Leiris', c.1976 pic.twitter.com/T6VIbgmT9B
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) August 17, 2017
Harry Styles shooting for Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan) c.2017 // Egon Schiele, 'Self Portrait with Physalis' c.1912 pic.twitter.com/aBAmalss18
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) August 2, 2017
We do not need to look all the way back to mythologies of yore, to the heroic, monstrous, and villainous archetypes that have inspired great art, music, and literature in all cultures across time. The classical ideals of god, mortal, and beast have so completely subsumed our conscious (and even unconscious) minds that we simply follow the script.
“Myths are the stories we tell ourselves to resolve the contradictions we find intolerable,” Peter Conrad writes in the opening chapter of his new book, Mythomania: Tales of Our Times from Apple to Isis (Thames & Hudson, September 12). “We dislike the idea that we happened into being accidentally in a universe that is a product of a random explosion. We therefore invent a creator who designed nature to serve us an allotted us a privileged place in it.”
Alexander McQueen menswear SS18 // Portrait of Lady Seymour Worsley (the Scandalous Lady W) by Sir Joshua Reynolds by c. 1775/6. pic.twitter.com/iXlYi4oyAG
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) May 25, 2017
'Self Portrait' by Jacob Lawrence, at work in his studio, 1977 // Kanye, clad in a red Yeezy sweatshirt, launches his Yeezy Season 3 line pic.twitter.com/f6GrkBWX4H
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) July 14, 2017
It is here, in this space of imagination that we unfold our myths: timeless tales of virtue and vice, of criminal behavior and moral lessons that speak as a warning to the foolish or the unethically inclined, distilling the wisdom of the ages into a captivating story that won’t be forgotten easily.
Conrad delves into the myths of the present day, of the exalted and desecrated figures that impel our imaginations to new heights. From Judge Judy to the Kardashians, Banksy to Christian Grey, Michael Jackson to Barack Obama, the way in which the art world, book publishing, music & entertainment industries, and mass media present narratives to us follows any number of classical myths.
Rihanna at Crop Over 2017, Barbados // Plate from Ernst Haeckel's 'Kunstformen der Natur' ('Artforms of nature'), 1904. pic.twitter.com/T3dBG3Qn50
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) August 8, 2017
ASAP Rocky reclines, clad in an all Gucci floral ensemble, in a photo shoot for Vanity Fair, 2016 // Kehinde Wiley's 'Morpheus', 2008 pic.twitter.com/gPAjMCFzPM
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) July 16, 2017
We can see this quite literally in TabloidArtHistory, the sizzling Twitter account launched in November 2016, which combines tabloid photographs with historic works of art. Mythology is not simply a set of codified values that occur as a sequence of events; it is also a body of knowledge built into our visual intelligence.
“Seeing is a believing” is a popular idiom that was first recorded in 1639 to give credence to the faith of Thomas the Apostle (aka “doubting Thomas”), who did not believe in the Resurrection until he saw Jesus for himself. Jesus, however, understood that there were those whose faith did not rely upon such empirical evidence.
Kristen Steward and Rupert Sanders caught by the paparazzi (affair), July 17th, L.A., 2012 // Edvard Munch, 'Kiss by the Window', 1892 pic.twitter.com/IxTHhsZfad
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) December 9, 2016
Prince Harry at a pool in Miami, Florida, 2014// 'Portrait of Nick Wilder' (detail), by David Hockney, 1966. Acrylic on Canvas, 183 x 183 cm pic.twitter.com/EajpLKLcje
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) July 31, 2017
But—most of us are not true believers and we seek evidence to guide our thoughts, whether to reinforce what we already believe or to question assumptions that were implanted in us. TabloidArtHistory’s strength is in its flawless ability to combine pop culture with high art, to cross the boundaries of pre-supposed hierarchies in order to expose our obsession with the underlying myths and archetypes that enfold our lives.
Beyoncé performs at the 2017 Grammy Awards // Statue of the Weeping Madonna pic.twitter.com/VMePGGWlRC
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) February 13, 2017
A pregnant Beyoncé amongst flowers, Mother's Day 2017 // 'Mary Little, later Lady Carr' by Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 30” x 24”, 2012 pic.twitter.com/DUTa8LljWz
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) July 16, 2017
Some artists like Beyoncé carefully research the past, sourcing a font of references from across the world of art, which she layers with great elegance and refinement to fully embody the essence of the Goddess herself. TabloidArtHistory draws parallels to the works of Kehinde Wiley, Eugène Delacroix, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Sandro Botticelli, and Evelyn de Morgan, and goddesses Oshun and Yemaya.
Tiger Woods dashcam video before DUI arrest, May, c.2017 // Tommaso di Piero, 'Martyrdom Of St. Sebastian', c.1490-95 pic.twitter.com/v6U71dElAU
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) June 1, 2017
Others, like Tiger Woods may have no such intents, but his downward spiral evokes a sensation of martyrdom akin to St. Sebastian—though when all is said and done, Muhammad Ali’s Esquire April 1968 cover articulated this paradigm for not just the Champ, but for African Americans as a whole, who are forced to live in a state of “double consciousness,” as defined by W.E.B. DuBois.
“What we look for in moments of doubt is a sign – some indication of where we are, and an explanation of how we got there,” Conrad writes. “With luck there might be an arrow, like an index finger directing us higher or at least pointing ahead.”
Lil Yachty, 'Teenage Emotions', 2017 album cover // James Ensor, 'Death and The Masks', c.1897 pic.twitter.com/pqJJgaGpYJ
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) April 21, 2017
'Man on a Bench' by Horace Pippin, 1946 // ASAP Rocky sits outside, LA, c.2015-16 pic.twitter.com/NTDMg7DCQ6
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) July 17, 2017
Or there might be a Twitter account, a thoughtful meme, a well-crafted essay, a powerful song, or any other symbol by which we can find a semblance of understanding in what is rightfully considered a mess. The brilliance of TabloidArtHistory is the way in which it allows us to see for ourselves, to recognize that once upon a time high art was popular culture.
It’s really just two sides of the same coin, and that coin is myth: our need to fixate on select personalities as an extension of self, of hopes and our fears, our dreams and nightmares, of the countless lessons we ignore in our own lives until we can finally see the meaning of it all, outside ourselves.
Spice Girls on the set of a publicity photoshoot, 1994-2000 // Pablo Picasso, 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon', c.1907 pic.twitter.com/FzXjYRMiNf
— TabloidArtHistory (@TabloidArtHist) January 10, 2017
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.