(“I’m riding dirty, tryna get filthy, Pablo Picasso, Rothkos, Rilkes
Graduated to the MoMA, and I did all of this without a diploma,”)
~Kanye West and Jay Z track “Who Gon’ Stop Me”-lyrics by via Rap Genuis~
As a first impression many may think that this is actually an old debate, as old as Bowie impersonated a Sinatra-like elegant persona or Peter Gabriel working well his theatre performance skills while in Genesis band. What makes different the actual interaction observed between Pop music and art is that is only on the surface, without a pretext and highly visual. Recently a trend of renowned pop musicians approaching high profile artists is happening making most people wonder why, since both seemed to be doing their work separately in a successful manner.
While analyzing the phenomenon, bear in mind that the crucial words are ‘’visual’’ and ‘’renowned artists’’. In this first paragraph we will deal with the sense of visual as transformed via modern pop music industry.
While in the very beginning visual arts seemed separated from pop music, applying only in theatre, exhibitions, flyers and sometimes, vinyl covers-the closer ever art got to popular music, and dated back at the 60’s.Visual arts used to have a code of their own and maintain their integrity along with an aesthetic value that little had to do with the expansion of popular music,especially during the 00’s and on. However, recently I observed the situation shifting, and more pop artists actually engaging visual arts along with artists being willing enough to associate with this part of the industry. This is not theoretically bad at all, and has happened in the past with interesting results, as referred above. The main concern is that there is never the word aesthetics or the notion of artistic boundaries when it comes to certain ‘’celebrity artists’’ or pop stars ,almost a situation that visual artists have been long experiencing and benefited from in the field of fashion .
So Rihanna’s ‘’Rude Boy’’ clips pay an obvious yet not-so-elegant tribute to some of the most recognizable Warhol works such as his ‘’Marilyn Monroe Lips’’ as well as reminiscing of Keith Haring and his distinctive work while appearing in body painting that echoed his aesthetics and also his methods of drawing. The unfortunate is that all artistic references made at the video bear no relation to the music and to the overall direction itself, served just as a visual language for people that think ‘’this is art, therefore it must be artish(the video).
Regarding Kate Perry’s album cover, most things are already advertised and known to the public, a number of people that probably haven’t heard of Cotton’s work before. Still, Will Cotton managed not be exposed but rather making Will Cotton, “Cotton Candy Katy,( (2010) appear as a possible project initialized by his own. Kanye West obtained a strong but respectful visual result by employing Vanessa Beecroft to style his “Runaway,” music video, a real success both literally and in terms of aesthetics. So far, visual culture has managed to make referencing to known artists and work of arts formulating a visual language where the presence of the ‘’work of art reference’’ works as a way of namedropping’’ in actual speech.
The other part regarding art and pop culture collaboration of today, is the choice of renowned artists aka ‘’pop’’ artists to collaborate with, so as to get artistic credibility but not confuse the audience with useless information, is the ‘’now’’ project that matters. Lady Gaga isn’t of course a pioneer in that practice but has used it to the ultimate form, from the so-called ‘’Marina Abramovic’’ method of full nudity, to controversial artist Jeff Koons, the master of kitsch style ,who actually made a sculpture of her for her ArtPop cover-pure kitsch at its best and Gaga managers know it. Still, they also take into account the controversial artistic route of Jeff Koons thus trying to create a connection between him and Gaga’s ‘’controversial’’ career. If Koons find that comparison flattering, well, we don’t. Unless is a post-modern perception of kitsch we’re not familiar yet-or self-mockery.
Rihanna got photographed naked with only snakes covering her body as part of a (dubious in terms of innovation and aesthetics) project for the 25th anniversary cover of British GQ initiated by artist Damian Hirst. The choice of Hirst has been made carefully, he is one of the few artists that can be defined as a household name and still have his name connected with provocation (good or bad seems not to matter).The idea of the Rihanna shooting wasn’t ‘’to make a great Rihanna Shooting’’, but either ‘’it’s a Rihanna shooting with snakes with Damien Hirst involved, you know, the one with the cows in the museum.’’ It is exactly the reaction that make thousands of people admire Gocconda in Louvre just because they’re told its good, not because they see its excellent. This kind of reaction was named ‘’a kitsch reaction’’ by Professor Umberto Eco in his book: ‘The semiotics of everyday life’’.
Pop means popular. But popular doesn’t have to be kitsch or rushed. Miley Cyrus doesn’t have to provoke that way and even employ sleazy photographer Terry Richardson to prove she’s not Hannah Montana anymore .Better take example from Kate Perry where her album ‘’Prism’ ’regardless of the music quality features a really elegant image shot by famous artist/ photographer Ryan McGinley.
I truly support the pop culture-art collaboration, it’s something that proved more fruitful that expected during the 60’s and the 70’s.But the trap that most artists fall in these days is going for the visual only. Art has also a past and hopefully, a future, and inside those both carries a meaning far more important that plain provocation or dubious aesthetics that typically push boundaries. If you really want to push boundaries with your work in pop and art better understand what you want to express and how this will have an actual impact on several society issues such as genre issues. Or watch a David Bowie documentary.