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Humor blog takes masterpieces down a notch

January 6, 2010 |  5:00 am

Painting

A new art-related humor blog is a must-read for anyone tired of the reverence accorded to masterpieces by museums, academics and journalists.

"That Is Priceless" was launched in November by L.A.-based television comedy writer and producer Steve Melcher. Once a day, Melcher spotlights a well-known work of art -- usually a painting -- and gives it an alternate title.

Take for example the above 1896 painting by John William Waterhouse titled "Hylas and the Nymphs." The work depicts a scene from ancient Greek mythology in which Hylas, who is one of Jason's argonauts, encounters a group of the mythical creatures in a sylvan setting.

The blog's alternate title for the piece is -- wait for it -- "Roman Polanski's Version of Events."

Ba-dum-chhh.

Melcher said the idea for the blog came to him while he was visiting the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. 

"At the time, I was looking to do a blog that wouldn't take up too much time and that would use my joke-writing talent," he said.

While at the museum, he saw a painting and "a caption popped into my head and I thought that would work."

Since November, Melcher has clocked in about one post per day. He said he chooses works that tell a clear story: "I don't do too much abstract or Impressionist art because readers will have to stop to figure out what the painting is showing. I love Dutch art -- they always have silly things going on in their paintings."

Mars The writer said he often tries to tie a painting to recent news, a holiday or a pop culture event. He said he was recently at the Getty Center around New Year's Day looking for inspiration.

"I sent my 11-year-old to find a painting that had someone who looked like Ryan Seacrest but we couldn't find one. We probably were looking in the wrong part of the gallery," he said.

For the New Year's blog post (pictured), Melcher used a painting by Louis Jean Francois Lagrenee titled "Mars and Venus, Allegory of Peace" (1770), which is part of the Getty collection.

His caption: "Morning After the New Year's Eve Party (Trying to Remember Her Name)."

Melcher, who lives with his wife, Amanda Biers-Melcher, and their children in Burbank, said he has written monologues and scripts for television shows featuring Dennis Miller, David Letterman, Bill Maher and others. He and his wife (who is also his writing partner) are currently working on a few television projects.

In choosing paintings to lampoon on his blog, Melcher said he selects those that are in the public domain, usually pulling images from Wikimedia Commons.

He said he is thinking about turning the blog into a coffee-table-type book.

-- David Ng

All the arts, all the time on Twitter @culturemonster.

Image (top): John William Waterhouse's  "Hylas and the Nymphs" (1896).

Image (bottom): Louis Jean Francois Lagrenee's "Mars and Venus, Allegory of Peace" (1770).

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