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Art Historian Goes Viral For Hilarious Tips On How To Become An ‘Art Expert’

The world of art can be very hard to navigate! I’ll openly admit that even though I’m an art lover, when it comes to the bit about recognizing which time period a piece is from, I end up completely befuddled. Luckily for me, there are plenty of friendly people on the internet to set the record straight, educate us, and help make us seem like art rockstars at dinner parties and art galleries alike.

One of these people is Melbourne art historian and video creator Mary McGillivray, who created a series of very informative and witty videos explaining what art movements a particular work of art is from and who the artist who painted it is. All so we can show off our great taste and in-depth knowledge in front of our friends (and learn something new while we’re at it!). Check out some of Mary’s full videos below, as shared on her _theiconoclass TikTok account, and be sure to follow Mary’s social media accounts for her latest updates if you enjoyed her content.

Mary was kind enough to offer me a glimpse into how she went from studying art history to creating educational videos. “The story begins back in Australia’s first COVID lockdown in 2020—ah, memories—where I found myself stuck at home with nothing to do. On a whim, I decided to put my degree in art history and my skills as a professional video editor to good use and make TikToks to entertain myself. I had no idea people would like my jokes about homoerotic frescoes as much as they did, but 10 months later, here we are!” the art historian told Bored Panda. You’ll find our full interview with her, as well as with former gallery director and art expert Shelby Bercume, below!

More info: TikTok | YouTube | Instagram | Twitter | MaryMcGillivray.com.au | Patreon

This Australian art historian is helping educate millions of people

Image credits: _theiconoclass

In some of her witty videos, she explains how we can impress our friends by learning to recognize different art movements and artists

@_theiconoclass

Want a part two? ?? #arthistorytiktok #arthistorymajor #learnontiktok

♬ Rasputin (Single Version) – Boney M.

#1 “If It Looks Like The Chaos After A Blackout Where Everyone Is Stumbling Around In The Dark Under One Solitary Emergency Light, It’s A Caravaggio”

“The Taking of Christ” by Caravaggio

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#2 “If Its Got Rich People Frollicing Outdoors Then Its Rococo”

“The swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Image credits: _theiconoclass

After Mary graduated from the University of Melbourne, she started on the path of making comedic and engaging video content for TikTok and YouTube about visual culture history. TikTok is a way for her to reach and educate millions of young people.

I was curious to find out what Mary thought were the main challenges keeping some people from delving into art history. “A lot of people think that art history is very serious and very important and this leads to them feeling overwhelmed—or even feeling like art history isn’t for them. This isn’t true! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, art history is just old memes. Once we start to see the humor and the humanity in art, it becomes far less intimidating,” she shared how we can change our perspective and embrace the complicated subject. Art as memes? Sign me up!

#3 “If It Looks Like A Nightmare You Once Had About Being Stranded In The Desert Then Its Surrealism”

“The Temptation of Saint Anthony” by Salvador Dalí 

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#4 “If She’s Blonde And Has This Exact Face, It’s A Botticelli”

“Figure of Flora”, “Portrait of Venus” and “Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci” by Sandro Botticelli

Image credits: _theiconoclass

Mary revealed that she’s always had a knack and a passion for art history. Her tale started in her early childhood, having been raised by an art history teacher and a museum curator. “You could say it’s ‘in my blood!'” she quipped.

“Ever since I watched John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ in high school, I knew I wanted to be able to reach people the way he did, and demystify the often stuffy and elite world of art history,” Mary shared how her passion grew from there.

Meanwhile, if she finds that she’s losing faith in her project, she simply re-watches ‘The Da Vinci Code’ movie. “The fiery rage it sparks within pushes me to go on. Nothing like pure hatred to fuel creativity,” she said.

#5 “If It Looks Like You Need Your Glasses Prescription Updated, Then It’s Impressionism”

“The walk” by Claude Monet

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#6 “If Everyone In The Painting Looks Unreasonably Jacked, Including The Women, It’s A Michelangelo”

“The Creation of Adam” and “Prophets And Sibyls: Libyan Sibyl” by Michelangelo

Image credits: _theiconoclass

Bored Panda also reached out to talk about art history with Shelby Bercume, a former gallery director from Florida. According to Shelby, art history isn’t a subject that’s taught in all schools, so it’s often “intimidating and difficult to grasp” for those of us who don’t have a background in it. However, she pointed out, that’s true for pretty much every subject that we’re unfamiliar with!

“I don’t necessarily think art history is an inaccessible entity, but I know that people tend to feel intimidated by things they aren’t experts in. Since art is often, if not always subjective, it feels even more intimidating than a subject with a ‘right answer,’ like math for example,” Shelby shared with Bored Panda. “I think often that leads to a disconnect between the desire to dive into the subject of art and by relation art history, and the execution of it.”

#7 “If Its A Portrait Of Rembrandt, It’s A Rembrandt”

“Self Portrait” by Rembrant

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#8 “If It Looks Like A Tupperware Drawer, Then It’s Cubism”

“Girl with a Mandolin” by Pablo Picasso

Image credits: _theiconoclass

Former gallery director Shelby believes that the idea of educational art history TikTok videos is absolutely great. They help make difficult subjects more accessible, less lofty, and far less scary. “Art is something to be enjoyed and shouldn’t be reserved for an exclusive group,” she said.

A major part of the appeal of art, according to the art expert, is that there’s no wrong answer. “Art is aesthetics and feelings. If you love something, voice why you love it… if you can’t find the words, that’s ok! Talking about art is really discussing how the art affects your emotional state and what thoughts it provokes,” she told Bored Panda.

“And remember, it is ok to not love everything, believe it or not, certain artworks are meant to be disturbing or disliked. Just don’t be intimidated to speak up because that’s really all we’re doing when we talk about art. We’re voicing opinions.”

#9 “If It’s Got Ugly Babies, It’s Medieval”

“Madonna and Child” by Bernardo Daddi

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#10 “If It Looks Like An Amateur Theatre Production, Then Its Neo-Classical”

“Oath of the Horatii” by Jacques-Louis David

Image credits: _theiconoclass

Meanwhile, TikToker Mary isn’t just a great art historian—she also knows that humor helps people remember her lessons better. That’s because humor activates the dopamine reward system in our brains, meaning that our long-term memory gets stimulated.

If you want to become an art history buff, making humorous associations between art movements and artists is the best way to make things easier for yourself. So when Mary makes a quip about Cubism artworks looking like your Tupperware drawer, you’re quite likely to remember. In fact, this particular example stuck with me so much, I can’t wait to share it with my friends.

Pssst, that’s also one of the reasons why you’ll remember things for your exams that much better if you rephrase things to sound funny (or even a tiny bit rude). Peculiarity and weirdness also tend to stick out more in our memories.

#11 “If It Looks Like Angsty Male Ego, Then It’s German Romanticism”

“Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#12 “If It’s Got Palpable Female Rage And/Or Vengeance – It’s An Artemisia”

“Judith Slaying Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#13 “If There’s At Least One Person Looking To The Camera Like They’re On The Office, It’s Diego Velázquez”

“Las Meninas” by Diego Velázquez

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#14 “If It Looks Like A Really Satisfying Game Of Tetris It’s A Mondrian”

“Composition with Red Blue and Yellow” by Piet Mondrian

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#15 “If Its Unfinished, It’s Probably A Leonardo”

“The Adoration of the Magi” by Leonardo da Vinci

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#16 “If There’s A Room With Some Nice Furniture, A Window, And Some Women Just Going About Here Everyday Business, It’s A Vermeer”

“Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid” by Johannes Vermeer

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#17 “If It Looks Like A Cottagecore Pinup Girl, Then Its Art Nouveau”

“Moët & Chandon: Champagne White Star” by Alphonse Mucha

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#18 “If It Looks Like … It’s An O’keeffe”

“Untitled” by By Georgia O’Keeffe

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#19 “It Looks Like A School Nativity Play Where Everyone’s Made A Toga Out Of Different Colored Bedsheets It’s A Giotto”

“Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ)” by Giotto di Bondone

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#20 “If It’s Got More Flesh Than A Nudist Beach – It’s A Rubens”

“The Feast of Venus” by Peter Paul Rubens

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#21 “If Its Got Sad Peasants It’s 19th Century Realism”

“The Gleaners” by Jean-Francois Millet

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#22 “If It’s Got Cute Babies, It’s Baroque”

“The Virgin and Child” by Ludovico Carracci

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#23 “If It Looks Like A Scene From Madaline, It’s A Jean Dufy”

“Paris, La Seine” by Jean Dufy

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#24 “If It Looks Like The Artistic Equivalent Of A Nicotine Addiction, Its An Egon Schiele”

“Self portrait” by Egon Schiele

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#25 “If It Looks Like A Low Res Jpeg Blown Up Its Pointillism”

Detail of “La Parade de Cirque” by Seurat

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#26 “If You’re Not Sure If It Is Art, Then Its Dada”

“Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#27 “If The People Look Way Too Long, Then It’s Mannerism”

“Madonna and Child” by Parmigianino

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#28 “If It Looks Like A Really Stressful Game Of Tetris It’s A George Braque”

“Bottle and Fishes” by Georges Braque

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#29 “If It’s Just Got Nice Trees, It’s A Claude Lorrain”

“Pastoral Landscape” by Claude Lorrain

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#30 “If It Looks Like A Trendy Collage Artist’s Instagram Then Its Constructivism”

Movie poster for the experimental avant-garde film “Man With A Movie Camera” by Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#31 “If Its Homoerotic And Painted On A Wall Or Ceiling, Then Its High Renaissance”

Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#32 “If It’s Got A Happy Presence, It’s A Dutch Genre Painting”

“The Way You Hear it is the Way You Sing it” by Jan Steen

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#33 “If It Looks Like A Gorman Puffer Jacket It’s A Matisse”

“The Sheaf” by Henri Matisse

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#34 “If It’s Got Nice Trees But Boring Figures, It’s A Poussin”

“Baptism of Christ” by Nicolas Poussin

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#35 “If It Looks Like The First Kid At School Who Learnt How To Draw In 3D And Would Not Shut Up About It, It’s A Massaccio”

“Holy Trinity” by Masaccio

Image credits: _theiconoclass

#36 “If She’s Blonde And Got Thicc Thighs, It’s A Titian”

“Sacred and Profane Love” by Titian

Image credits: _theiconoclass



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