Géricault Can Dunk? An Instagram Account Finding Uncanny Similarities Between Art Masterpieces and Sports Photos Has Gone Viral

The meme account, ArtButMakeItSports, has paired Bill Russell with Jacob Lawrence and Kevin Durant with Salvador Dalí.

Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa next to a photo of Rudy Gobert dunking. Courtesy of ArtButMakeItSports.

Kevin Durant and Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and Beth Mead: these are just some of the unusual unions featured by a new social media account that pits pictures of athletes with great works of art.

The account is called ArtButMakeItSportst, and it launched in late 2019 and has since gone on to amass tens of thousands of followers across both Instagram and Twitter. If there was ever section of the internet on which both ardent art lovers and rabid sports fans can converge, this is it.

Behind the viral account is L.J. Rader, who works as a director of product at a sports-data company. The project began humbly, with Rader captioning pictures from personal art excursions with topical sports jokes, then posting the results to his own timelines. 

“For years, I would go to museums and take a whole bunch of pictures and this was around the time Instagram was starting up,” he told USA Today earlier this year. “People weren’t sure how to use it and a lot of people would take selfies and I would take pictures of art but give it sports captions.”

“I posted them on my personal Instagram and my friends would say I should do more and it got to a point where I started my account solely focused on these.”

The account quickly blew up. Meanwhile, Rader began refining his work, moving from memes to the mashups for which the project is now well known. His creations grew more sophisticated, too. 

“Sometimes, it’s instantaneous,” Rader said of his process. “Something happens in sports. I’ll see it and I’ll know what it’s going to be. If I don’t have an image in mind, I’ll have a theme, like if it’s Greek mythology or an artistic style.”

Often, Rader’s paired pictures have more in common than just composition. A recent post, for instance, juxtaposed a shot of Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, who died late last month, with a panel from Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series. Both Russell and Lawrence were prominent Civil Rights activists. 

Another mashup frames WBNA star Brittney Griner, who is currently being held as a diplomatic pawn in Russia, with a 2018 sculpture by Glenn Kaino, called Invisible Man. Both the athlete and Kaino’s figure have a fist raised in the air—a reference, Rader wrote in the caption, to Tommie Smith’s activism.

The goal, Rader told Colossal recently, is to dive into “what art means and (explore) the intersection of culture between two sides—art and sports—that rarely meet.”

See more creative ArtButMakeItSports pairings below.

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