YOUR* Favourite Meme Artist Answers YOUR* Questions
“Once you have enough people looking at what you do, you have to fucking say something - don’t just take up space”
Finding artistic inspiration in a crumbling civilisation and a collapsing ecosystem isn’t easy. But thanks to skyrocketing inequality, plummeting living standards, and a little thing called the Internet, inspiration is everywhere. Just look around you.
Here to help you find it is Teenage Stepdad - the host of Seize The Memes, cyberspace’s best and most recent digital art instruction series. He inspires viewers to throw off the shackles of the corporate media, drop out of design school, and make some fucking art. Over on Instagram, he toys with classic design and the haywire politics of our accelerationist age to create digital graffiti with revolutionary potential.
“Dear Teenage Stepdad,
I saw a communist symbol in one of your memes. Are you a communist? Is communism bad?”
Well, I don’t know. When I was growing up, it was just presented as, like, the Ultimate Evil. Communism and Russia were as bad as you could get, and this hammer and sickle thing was the opposite of what the United States is. But as I grew older, I realised that this, like everything else they told me, was bullshit. I guess I’m just twisting that in on itself and being like, okay, that’s the opposite of what I live under, so I like that. And as a designer, that stuff looks fucking cool as shit.
Funnily enough, the art deco style from that era is exactly what the Rockefeller Center in New York City looks like.
The old USSR flag also looks remarkably similar to McDonald’s branding. The symbolism of power and God-like inevitability is universal, whether it was made by the Soviets or the capitalists.
“Dear Teenage Stepdad,
I was born after 9/11. But I love how you showcase design from the 1980s in your show. What draws you to this era?”
Back in the 80s, a lot of VHS tapes and film posters weren’t designed by corporate designers, but workaday designers in the print houses. Design from that era is so great because often these designers were working with a schlocky product and had one shot at differentiating themselves in a crowded market. They’d pay painters and illustrators to do stuff that they just don’t do anymore.
It’s also a time in my life when I experienced a crazy loss. I think in some ways that stunted me as a person in that period around 1989, when everything made more sense. I have never gotten away from gravitating towards that era. That's just something that I realised maybe a couple months back. I kind of asked myself that question: why is all your stuff set here? It's the only answer I could come up with.
"Dear Teenage Stepdad,
You have so many Instagram followers. Can you tell me how to go viral so I can get more likes?”
Making a viral image is definitely not something that I set out to do. I mean, I think I know enough tricks that I could do that sort of stuff. But with my process, I don't generally sit down and know what I'm going to make. It seems like the posts that do really well come from a real place of anger and frustration. People are generally really angry and frustrated, so when they see somebody else express that they respond to it.
What I can say is that the algorithm is fucking horseshit. It really shouldn’t exist. When it was just chronological, that was really what people wanted - they want to follow what they want to follow and see what they want to see. Somehow, these fucking geniuses in Silicon Valley have decided that is their job to manipulate that and manipulate people in the process to sell more advertising.
“Dear Teenage Stepdad,
I want to be a meme artist just like you. Should I turn my art into a career?”
When I was 15, I made a conscious decision to separate making a living from my creativity so that I could remain pure and free. My artistic fulfilment now would not exist if I hadn’t made that decision. Artistic fulfilment is the only thing that matters. If you’re broke, but you’re artistically fulfilled, it’s a very good trade-off because it makes you feel alive.
For a guy who can be very glib and cynical a lot of the time, this is really something I want to spread in a very sincere way to people that encounter my work. Once you have enough people looking at what you do, you have to fucking say something - don’t just take up space.
The most important thing I can say is that art is important, for personal reasons and for reasons much bigger than yourself. Art saves my life every single day and it has my entire life.