Posted by: Rachel | December 2, 2014

On The Toast (Part Two)

I’d like to follow up on Mackenzie’s earlier post regarding Texts From Jane Eyre and its creator, Mallory Ortberg of The Toast. Here’s another in the series of absurdly mundane interpretations of classical artwork: “Women Rejecting Marriage Proposals in Western Art History.”

mmm idk i kind of already have all the cows i need so i don’t really see what i would get out of this

Ortberg pairs grandiose images of long historical significance with twenty-first century style commentary, typically in a bored tone. The unlikely juxtaposition of these two scripts (i.e., contemporary conversational dialect and the more formal scripts traditionally associated with respected art) is in itself humorous — in fact, this formula often serves as the basis for humor. However, Ortberg’s project extends into an even greater dimension: it casts a feminist lens on a historically male-dominated world. Not only does Ortberg inject women’s thoughts into spaces where they were previously absent, but these thoughts also contain a humanity absent in the two-dimensionality of the paintings. Ortberg’s women are bored, disdainful — a radical concept. These women claim their long-awaited voices within these scenes not tentatively or grandly, as might be expected, but in a jarringly human manner.

As viewers and readers, we can interpret Ortberg’s humorous annotations in one of two (contrasting) ways:

a) They’re reductive: they strip the paintings of their historical and artistic dignity, in favor of a crude and lazy twenty-first century sensibility.

b) They provide a supplementary means of achieving the original artistic aims of the paintings. Where the painter aimed to capture a moment in time in order to represent a larger aspect of human nature, relationships, and so on, Ortberg’s language now carries the scene one step further. This has the added bonus of both accessibility and appeal to contemporary readers and viewers, which bridges a temporal gap between the paintings’ historical periods and the present.

I can see both sides, and I think they’re intended to be gently provocative. What do you guys think?


  1. I was not excepting so many paintings..! This set of captions seems anachronistic in its language (sort of reminds me of phrases like “friendzoned” and others that are rooted in misogynistic expectations of women…), yet true to the narratives within these scenes. I don’t think the captions carry the narratives further, but they certainly expand their potential for intelligibility to a larger – and younger – audience.
    Love this post!

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