A New Book Turns Historical Paintings Into Hilarious Memes About Mansplaining—See Images Here

Nicole Tersigni's new book identifies tropes of despicable men through classical paintings.

Nicole Tersinger's Men to Avoid in Art and Life (2020). Courtesy Chronicle Books.
Nicole Tersinger's Men to Avoid in Art and Life (2020). Courtesy Chronicle Books.

Have you ever looked at a female subject in an old painting thought to yourself “same girl” as the (clearly) beleaguered woman quietly seethes in the company of leering men standing way too close? Nicole Tersigni did.

Tersigni is a Detroit-based writer who found herself, as one does, scrolling through Twitter and sighing as she read yet another male user explaining a joke to the very woman who made it—”something that has happened to me many times,” she recently told the New York Times. Fed up with mansplaining, she turned to Google to search the phrase “woman surrounded by men”—because “because that is what it felt like in that moment”—and looked for a good one to make into a meme. What turned up was painting after painting, most made centuries ago, depicting this very situation.

With a few mouse clicks, Tersigni cut-and-pasted a few lines of sarcastic text to run alongside an image, and when she posted it on social media, it went viral. Celebrities including Alyssa Milano and Busy Phillips fawned over the pitch-perfect tone of the quips, and soon publishers were interested.

This week, less than a year after she posted the first image, a book collecting her memes, Men to Avoid in Art and Life, debuted from Chronicle Books. Comedian Jen Kirkman writes in the forward to the book, “The truth of what it’s like to be a woman IRL and online is in this book,” (which, as an added bonus, features truly beautiful artworks).

Nicole Tersinger's Men to Avoid in Art and Life (2020). Courtesy Chronicle Books.

Nicole Tersinger’s Men to Avoid in Art and Life (2020). Courtesy Chronicle Books.

Alongside works by Jan Steen, Jacques Louis David, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and William Hogarth (if you’re sensing a pattern here, you are correct: all of the works selected are by men), readers are introduced to categories of men who the writer has identified as typical in art and in life: The Mansplainer, Concern-Troll, the Comedian, the Sexpert, and the Patronizer. These labels certainly don’t apply to all men, but it is uncanny how many artworks seem to embody them.

Some highlights include the corpulent man, rosy-cheeked with his gut threatening to burst out of his waistcoat looking down at a full-figured woman. Tersinger has captioned the image: “When I said lose a few pounds, I was only thinking about your health.” Cue the eye-roll.

See more excerpts from the book, below.

Nicole Tersinger’s Men to Avoid in Art and Life (2020). Courtesy Chronicle Books.

Nicole Tersinger’s Men to Avoid in Art and Life (2020). Courtesy Chronicle Books.

Nicole Tersinger's <i>Men to Avoid in Art and Life</i> (2020). Courtesy Chronicle Books.

Nicole Tersinger’s Men to Avoid in Art and Life (2020). Courtesy Chronicle Books.


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