Kanye West, Lady Gaga, and Other Pop Stars Have No Idea What "Art" Means
Another day, another pop star talking about the capital-a Art they make. No, it's not Lady Gaga or Jay-Z, but rather Kanye West who's stepped up to the very misguided plate today, in part one of a two-part interview with BBC1 Radio's Zane Lowe. It's everything we've come to expect from West at this point in his Very Esteemed and Very Important Career. But hooo lawd we have to admit it: All of this talk about Art in popular music needs to pump the breaks a bit, mmkay?
The 14-minute long interview covers a wide array of subjects: music, fashion, integrity, and process. And you can tell that, largely, his intentions are good. West understands his forefathers — Michael Jackson is a topic of juxtaposition — and understands that challenge is part of the game. His discussion on the corporate stranglehold that keeps current radio variety at a bare minimum (Are there even 40 songs played on Top 40 radio anymore?) is on point.
His need to try new, creative ways of making music is completely necessary to the field. And let's face it: West's a good producer. Taking up challenges and pushing boundaries is a luxury that celebrities and creative folks have that others simply do not in many respects. But then he goes and talks about his own success and place in the grand spectrum of the artistic world (as if that's something that can be done anywhere other than in hindsight), as if writing his own egomaniacal obituary, and I'm off the Kanye train as quick as I was on it.
But West isn't the only one on the obsessive art tip, though. Jay-Z's latest album featured a Marina Abramovic-styled performance piece for the single "Picasso Baby," wherein he touts himself as "the modern day Pablo / Picasso Baby." And of course there's the self-appointed queen of ARTPOP herself, Lady Gaga. The artist formally known as Stefani Germanotta has been notorious for her obsession with capital-a Art. To the point that her video for "Applause" has enough perceived references to make even the brown nose-iest of art history graduate students roll their eyes. Some even say she's trying to turn her critics into art. It's... a lot.
But there's a fine line between making art and understanding art. And by constantly focusing on and discussing how Artistic and Important your Art is, you're also sort of defeating the purpose of art. Art is a highly personal medium, unique in its ability to be experienced differently by every single person that encounters it. Everyone could — and should! — have a personal response to that art. And it's their right to do just that.
But it's not the responsibility or right of West, or Gaga, or Jay — or anyone else for that matter! — to tell people what art should mean to them. You don't have a crystal ball, Kanye (but if you do, you should probably sharesies as I have some questions), so you cannot predict how your work will be viewed in the future! If the art is there and you like it (or don't), cool! Mission of art accomplished. But to constantly gawp at the press, exclaiming, "Look at this! Don't you see how visionary this is? Don't you see all the subtle nuances? Don't you understand all the context? All the references? All the this and the that? Don't you get how smart and artistic and wonderful I am? Do you not see the visionary in front of you? You have to get it! If you don't get exactly what I was going for, then you're too narrow-minded to get the point of Art!"? That just makes the audience think that a) you think we're stupid, b) you're insane, or c) you're far too insecure in your understanding of yourself and/or art to have such an ego about it.
And that's not even touching on the what-kind-of-fuckery-is-this-ness of statements such as, "I know how to make perfect," because OH REALLY, Kanye? Is there such a thing? And if there is, can it be classified as Art, 'Ye?