The Simpsons Did It: Part 1

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While we at Sartle fancy ourselves pioneers of art history humor, we know that for every reference we make, there’s the inveitability that plagues every comedic endeavor: The Simpsons did it first!

We don’t feel too bad since those pros have been serving up silliness and satire for 25 years. In fact, to say I am obsessed with the show to the point of mania…would be an understatement.  And Sartle is extra tickled when the writers apply their razor sharp wit to the realm of art!

Seeing as FXX just started a marathon of every Simpsons episode ever (zomg), we’re gunna give you an inside guide to all the art jokes you may have missed the first time around… and the Sartle scoop on why they’re funny:


From The Simpsons, “That 90’s Show” (Season 19, Ep. 11)

As you probably know, every Simpsons episode starts with the theme song that ends in a “couch gag.”  This one features two hoighty-toighty art snobs looking at a painting of the classic living room scene. The camera zooms in and you see the words, “Ceci n'est pas une couch gag." 


The Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe) by René Magritte.

This is a brainy reference to René Magritte’s painting of a pipe with the same text, reading "Ceci n'est pas une pipe,” or for us patriots, “This is not a pipe.”  A clever play on semantics, Magritte’s text asks us to rethink the reality of the image- though a pipe is pictured, and we think of a pipe when we look at it, it is not, in fact, a pipe.


But because this is, in fact, a couch gag, The Simpsons have one-upped him (and perhaps pointed out the inanity of the whole endeavor.) Poking fun at famously revered works of art? We are so on board.


This same episode features a button sculpture by Claes Oldenburg, who teams up with his wife Coosje van Bruggen to create huge versions of everyday objects. Their larger than life creations are perfect for the cartoon universe. 


This one is based on Split Button, a sculpture you can find on the UPenn campus, where one of the head writers for this episode matriculated. Notice how the artist embiggens an item we normally think of as small!


The Simpsons, Season 7, Episode 16

Then there’s the less subtle Simpsons art references, where they have a crack at the biggest hits.  In the episode “Crepes of Wrath” (lol), Bart’s sent away to France for a foreign-exchange program. His tour guide Cesar zips him around on a très European scooter and on the way they interrupt some familiar scenes…


(Season 1, Ep. 11)

Over Claude Monet’s Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, through one of Vincent van Gogh’s many wheatfields, enjoying the scenery of Henri Rousseau’s jungle, and finally zooming through Édouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, where Bart gets a lesson in Europe’s lax attitude towards nudity.

This homage to the great French Impressionists in the first season almost makes up for the rest of the series, where jabs at our froggy friends are plentiful.


We said “almost”… (from “You Only Move Twice” Season 8, Ep. 2)

Next up, in a classic Simpsons commentary on censorship, there’s the episode where Marge protests the violence of the Itchy & Scratchy Show.


Who hit Homer? Maggie of course! (Itchy & Scratchy & Marge, S02E09)

Marge and her zealotous crew get the cartoon cleaned up, but our leading lady finds herself in a moral dilemna when the rest of her group urges her to protest the obscene peen of Michelangelo‘s David, the famous statue that’s making a stop in Springfield on its national tour.


Springfield News anchor Kent Brockman asks, “Is it a masterpiece…or just some guy with his pants down?”  Sartle says, “Why not both?”

But Marge doesn’t want to protest this great work of art! She thinks the town needs a little culture! When her therapist, Dr. Marvin Monroe, points out the hypocrisy of censoring one kind of art and not another, Marge relents and Itchy & Scratchy go back to their homicidal antics.


We told you, Europeans and nudity…

Michelangelo's David is probably the most famous statue in the world, and if you’ve been on the air for 25 years, you’re probably going to have to recycle some material.  He makes another appearance when Marge tries to convince Homer to take Lisa to a museum.


Homer needs some Sartle in his life (“Lisa’s Sax” Season 9, Episode 3)

Homer then daydreams about beating Michelangelo's David in foosball:


Note how he’s now covered up…it’s like referential Simpsons inception!!!!

When he asks, “Who’s next??,” Edvard Munch's The Scream pops in and wails “Meeeeeeeeeeeee!”


He’ll have to use his hands to have a fighting chance.

We actually think the Simpsons rendering is a lot creepier than the OG Scream


This is the face I’ll make if it ever gets cancelled.

Alright folks, I know we all have some catching up to do on our DVRs, so I’ll end here.

Thanks for tearing your eyes away from the marathon and make sure to stay tuned to the Sartler for the next installment of Simpsons art jokes, coming soon! But for now…


By Angelica Jardini

Angelica Jardini

Sr. Editor