The recent release of George Clooney’s The Monuments Men got me thinking about the significance of art for societies, as I’m sure most were left thinking similar thoughts while leaving theaters. But the film got me thinking about the respectability of art as such, especially contemporary art and its many new forms.
It seems really in vogue these days for popular entertainers to involve themselves in the contemporary visual art scene. Jay-Z and Lady Gaga are increasingly unsuccessful at this. These entertainers are attempting to legitimize their “artistic” success with name-dropping.
No one is really convinced, though.
Simply owning a Basquiat or calling himself “the new Jean-Michel,” as Jay-Z does in “Picasso Baby,” does not make him the auditory Basquiat. For his “Picasso Baby” performance, Jay-Z merely danced with New York artists while rapping about his accumulated wealth, which can hardly be called performance art.
He also name-drops famous artists in “Picasso Baby,” such as Da Vinci, Rothko and Warhol. All that can really be taken from mentioning these artists is that Jay-Z has a fourth-grade knowledge of art history. He raps nothing about the artists’ works and impacts. He just raps about possessing them. Moreover, Jay-Z puts their accomplishments in a box for his own self-indulgence and ceases to understand their quality.
If Jay-Z truly wants to become a contemporary artist, he needs to set himself apart from his contemporaries. Merely gaining an innumerable amount of wealth then bragging about it isn’t going to make him an artist.
Creating new forms of art is fantastic and does great things for the art world. However, exploiting artistic precedent in order to crown oneself an “artist” does not verify the title.
The same goes for Lady Gaga.
Gaga is recognized for her entertaining, flamboyant costumes. Gaga’s costumes are visually interesting and are at times stunning. Designers such as Carolina Herrera and threeASFOUR have designed Gaga’s costumes, and they are actual works of art. But they’re not Gaga’s designs. The thing about Gaga’s costumes is that she didn’t create them — she isn’t the artist, but is merely the model. Like Jay-Z, Gaga is calling herself an artist by using someone else’s art in order to popularize herself and promote her image. Even Gaga’s album art in ARTPOP clings to the success of others. The album cover shows a cut-up Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne” as a background for Jeff Koons’ sculpture of Gaga as Venus. Likewise, the album art for Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail features Renaissance artist Battista di Domenico Lorenzi’s “Alpheus and Arethusa.”
In the album art for ARTPOP, Gaga is posing herself as the ancient goddess, ultimately claiming transcendence into I-don’t-know-what. Perhaps this transcendence is Gaga competing against herself for her own stardom. But Gaga hasn’t really transcended into the art world because she’s an entertainer, making her lasting effect out of self-sexualization and shallow lyrics.
In her single “Applause,” Gaga sings that “the Koons is me,” referring to herself as actual art. It seems that Gaga is going, well, gaga over the fact that Koons created a sculpture of her. But she’s not the only one to be a muse for Koons. In 1988, Koons created a sculpture of Michael Jackson and a monkey titled, “Michael Jackson and Bubbles.” Jay-Z also mentions Koons in Magna Carta Holy Grail. There seems to be a trend for entertainers gaining Koons’ attention.
Gaga’s music is something to be reserved for the clubs, for the beats are catchy and the lyrics shallow, while the visual art that accompanies her music isn’t really hers at all. Having knowledge of or possessing art should not be a sign of wealthy accomplishment. Art is a historical representation of the human intellect and is an endeavor into the creative enterprise. Simply knowing the monetary value of art misunderstands and disrespects it.
A large feature of art is pushing boundaries and challenging conventional ways of thought. These entertainers haven’t really done that. They’re merely clinging to the success of others’ art. And they’re entirely missing the essence of art. Art reveals some kind of truth — it’s not mere social commentary. A lot of people in the art world feel insulted by these entertainers perverting the one craft that has been home to many of the world’s troubled souls. I’m sure that a great amount who study poetry would feel the same way if Gaga suddenly started marketing herself as a poet. Perhaps she will, but doesn’t know it.
Opinion Editor Alley Jordan is a senior political science and classics major.