Thursday, September 23, 2010

Judging an Artist by the Music They Like (or the People They Love)

Jonathan Jones argues on his Guardian blog that there's a symbiosis between visual art and music:
In Manhattan from the 1940s onwards, artists had an empathy for pop music, or its artier manifestations, and vice versa. Jackson Pollock listened to jazz while he painted and Ornette Coleman repaid the compliment by putting a Pollock painting on the cover of his revolutionary recording Free Jazz. No sooner did rock elbow jazz out of American youth culture than artists began to portray Elvis, and by the late 60s, Andy Warhol was bringing together classical modernist music with guttural pop as he managed the Velvet Underground.

Anyone who doubts Warhol's worth should listen to the Velvet Underground. I suppose there must be a few ears on the planet that would fail to find Pale Blue Eyes beautiful or Sweet Jane uplifting, but there is a fairly broad and just consensus that Warhol adopted not just any rock group, but one of the very greatest. What does that tell you about his art? The poetry of Heroin reflects his car crash paintings; the lyrics of I'll Be Your Mirror tell us about his apparently vacant gaze. Warhol's soul is witnessed by the music he nurtured.

He goes on to emphasize his point by noting:
Damien Hirst's most famous foray into music was Vindaloo. Need I say more?

I will admit that some of the most interesting visual artists I know tend to have the most exquisite and adventurous taste in music. And I'll agree that taste in music strikes me as a good indication of the quality of one's soul. But logically, I'm not entirely sure that the quality of one's soul is a solid indication of how good one's art will be.

Jones goes on to make what might be an even bigger leap in logic, but then again, perhaps not:
[S]o much time could have been saved by critics who, in the 80s and early 90s, argued over the merits of Robert Mapplethorpe if they had just listened to Patti Smith's album Horses. Could an empty, celebrity-fixated nobody – which is how some saw Mapplethorpe – have been loved by her?
I've had the conversation many times with artists that they couldn't love someone if they didn't also love their art. At first I had interpreted this to mean, at least in part, that they knew it would eventually come up and cause problems in the relationship when their lover learned they didn't respect their work, but Jones' example suggests it goes deeper...that you can judge an artist's soul by their work. Or at least that if you love their soul, then their art must be good.

Arguments like this begin to fall apart a bit for me at this point. Personally, I know artists with gorgeous souls whose work is lacking to my eye, and I know artists whose work is great but who are perfect little sh*ts as human beings. Mind you, being a perfect little sh*t may not be incompatible with having a rich and interesting soul, let alone having exquisite taste in music, but I imagine it makes it more difficult to find true love.

Then again, so long as Jones' piece provides a reasonably sound rationale to post the Velvet's all good:

Labels: art making, music, quality


Blogger Mark said...

Wow, the moon has had an effect on you this week! I'd add the ways we get music, itunes, internet radio (Radio Paradise etc.) expands the possibilities. I listen to a wide range classical, jazz - heard some country yesterday eee. Had a conversation with the trumpeter Terence Blanchard (Spike Lee movies). There were so many similarities in the painting process and composing music. I found that comforting.

9/23/2010 09:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

I don't know what leads this guy to think that all of a sudden relationships between painters and musicians started in the 1940s. Go back 50 years and you see Stravinsky as a close friend of Picasso; Schoenberg also had a close if off-and-on friendship with Kandinsky (commemorated in one of the Jewish Museum's best recent shows). Go back another century and you find Delacroix a friend of Chopin. I don't know if friendships between artists and composers were largely a 20th-century phenomenon, as I can't think of any close friendships of this type with figures like Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven; and Berlioz was totally indifferent to painting. But it would be interesting to trace how and why such correspondences sprang up.

9/23/2010 11:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Then also, Debussy was clearly inspired by the Impressionist paintings of Monet and his contemporaries.

9/23/2010 11:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Marc said...

I've always found Warhol's association with the V.U. a bit perplexing. Lou Reed's disposition and physical appearance was nothing like Andy's. If Warhol's art seemed coy and deadpan, the Velvet Underground's sound was urgent and typically loud. Still, both where so-cool in their time and their work remains ridiculously fresh today.

9/23/2010 09:24:00 PM  
Anonymous John S said...

The relationship of a visual artist and the music they like (or know of) has been an interest of mine for a while now. Being a pianist who specializes in contemporary classical music I am very surprised and a little bit disappointed now and then that although artists concern themselves with very contemporary thoughts and ideas in visual art, they rarely seem to know or be interested in the music that is in lots of ways (formally, structurally, historically) much closer to what they make than in popular music. Does anyone have an idea why this is? Is it simply a lack of contact with contemporary music? Is it not on the art world's radar? (The same goes for art magazines: Frieze has regular articles on music, but always on more or less avant garde pop, very very seldom about contemporary classical music) Is it not deemed hip enough? Or is dealing with visual dissonance not the same as with aural dissonance?

9/24/2010 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger Aron said...

I am an artist and I'm always listening to music while I paint. Most artists I know do the same, too. However, I am also a musician so my perspective is different from theirs.

In my opinion, art is global and we as artists need to be exposed to other artistic expressions other than our own. I find it troubling than most artists I know have no interest at all in learning about other art forms. As young, aspiring artists, we are always wondering how come "nobody appreciates what we do", yet we show so little interest for the work of others, if such work happens to be theater, or poetry, etc...

Maybe it is because we live in such an over-diversified era. Back in the day, intellectuals from all disciplines seemed to frequent the same places. That concept sounds weird now. There are way too many geeks out there!

When I was in college, some of my professors seemed to be confused about the fact that I showed the same interest for both visual arts and music. I got the feeling some of them took it as a lack of commitment.

Regarding partners, I married a social scientist and I never get offended or feel insulted if she does not get or like what I am doing. I am not expected to be well versed, or even genuinely interested in her field, so I don't have such expectations from her either.

As for if a "good/kind person equals good artist", I do not agree with that at all. I think it has to be more with personality and what takes to channel each person's creativity. Just like an abused person can either turn into another abuser or go the opposite way and become the most nurturing, caring person ever; artists can find negative experiences or personality traits to be useful in the creative process.

9/29/2010 01:41:00 AM  
Blogger Elwyn Palmerton said...

"...that you can judge an artist's soul by their work. Or at least that if you love their soul, then their art must be good."

Nobody has souls. That's why we have art, it's the next closest thing.

10/03/2010 05:19:00 PM  

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