Classical Mask: Art History’s punny posters encourage mask wearing, social distancing

New health protocol notices in Herring Hall promote safety, smiles

Some works of art are so iconic they’re instantly eye-catching: Think René Magritte’s surreal “The Son of Man,” Michelangelo’s majestic “The Creation of Adam” or Johannes Vermeer’s masterful “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”

And it turns out they’re even more head-turning when their subjects are sporting masks and sharing coronavirus-related safety slogans.

A clever new series of posters from the Department of Art History can be seen throughout Herring Hall. (Photos by Jeff Fitlow)

Photos by Jeff Fitlow

The posters, now hanging throughout Herring Hall, were already the talk of the campus as faculty and staff prepared for students to return to Rice for O-Week.

“We were hoping to lighten the mood,” said Chelsey Denny, department administrator and imaging specialist in Rice’s Department of Art History, who created the poster campaign along with Irene Kwan.

“I usually only stop to take notice of posted flyers and signs around campus that are either colorfully striking or have a humorous tone to them, so I tried to incorporate both aspects behind making these health protocol posters that fit in a bit with the meme culture that youths use to communicate in these days,” said Kwan, the department, web and image coordinator for Art History.

Some works of art are so iconic they’re instantly eye-catching: Think René Magritte’s surreal “The Son of Man,” Michelangelo’s majestic “The Creation of Adam” or Johannes Vermeer’s masterful “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” And it turns out they’re even more head-turning when their subjects are sporting masks and sharing coronavirus-related safety slogans.
On one poster, Raphael’s “The School of Athens” sees Plato and Aristotle discussing hand-washing techniques. On another, Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” urges proper physical distancing (which the farmer and his daughter were pointedly not practicing).

“I thought people, especially in our department, may actually stop to look at the signs and take them in a bit more if they had art on them,” Denny said.

She gave some initial art direction to Kwan, who quickly ran with the idea.

“People have been saturated with a slew of COVID-related warnings, ads and posters lately on campus, in the media and around the city, which motivated me to try something a bit unconventional in creating twists within the framework of famous artworks,” Kwan said.

Some works of art are so iconic they’re instantly eye-catching: Think René Magritte’s surreal “The Son of Man,” Michelangelo’s majestic “The Creation of Adam” or Johannes Vermeer’s masterful “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” And it turns out they’re even more head-turning when their subjects are sporting masks and sharing coronavirus-related safety slogans.
By last week, Kwan had designed, printed and displayed the posters in Herring Hall, which is also home to the Department of English and the Center for Teaching Excellence. And as intended, their comical call-outs are already catching the attention of faculty and students returning to campus.

“My purpose behind these designs were twofold: To urge people to follow the rules and to bring a small smile to people’s faces in the hallways during these days marred by anxiety and unpredictability,” she said.

“Actually, make that threefold,” Kwan added. “I hope they can entice students to learn more about art history and to remind them of the lasting beauty — and quirkiness — behind some of these centuries-old artworks.”

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.