“What is it about art anyway that we give it so much importance? Artists are respected by the poor because what they do is an honest way to get out of the slum using one's sheer self as the medium. The money earned, proof, pure and simple, of the value of that individual, the artist. The picture a mother's son does in jail hangs on her wall as proof that beauty is possible even in the most wretched. And this is a much different idea than fancier notion that art is a scam and a rip-off. But you can never explain to someone who uses God's gift to enslave, that you have used God's gift to be free.”
The quote above is from the biopic of the artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. It’s a pretty good movie but after watching it, I wanted to watch the documentary about his life “The Radiant Child” and it was much better than the biopic. The documentary uses interviews from his closest friends and even Basquiat’s own interviews to tell the story of his life. Both have their ups and downs but what they have in common is the story of one of the greatest artists to ever live.
Basquiat was a genius. A genius that’s tough to understand if you don’t understand the environment and time he was raised in. We’ve all seen old videos of New York City in the 80’s but there more to this guy. Being black in America, especially if you are raised in this culture we love called Hip-Hop, comes with a challenge. If you dream of or have aspirations of being great outside of this culture you need to be able to speak with those people. But, if you want to maintain those connections with those people within the culture, you need to maintain and speak that language as well. It’s almost like being bi-lingual. I think of the NaS & Jay-Z song “Black Republican”.
"By the way, I can exist in all worlds. I just feel like as a black man in America, we speak like 3 languages. You gotta be multilingual, at least two. Well it’s three really. This is how I talk when I'm comfortable and with my homeboys, this is how I talk when I'm at a job interview, and this is how I talk with my mom. At least for me."
- J. Cole
If you have ever or will ever see Basquiat’s work, you might instantly see the genius in it. You are brought along for the process of him making the actual painting. Words are crossed out to add importance to them because it is the fact he seems to want to rid the painting of the word that brings our attention to the fact that it is still there. Sort of like black men in.… never mind. I’ll save that for another blog post.
It’s that Basquiat can appeal to “different types” of people that makes his art, and all art for that matter, special. There is no need for the “different languages” if you will. I was in Amsterdam & Belgium (slight stunt) this past weekend and there is a blog specifically about my experiences there that is on the way (I’m going back to Amsterdam next month with my brothers and I will finish that post then), but what I learned above all is what I’ve known all along. We as people are more alike than we are different. I didn’t just come to that realization from the people in Amsterdam, but even from my own roommates here in London. We all arrived here from a different path but those paths have more in common than we think. The roots of those similarities come from one of or both of two places. A love for some person/people somewhere and love for some form of art.
Jean Michel’s paintings, to me at least, show with the rudimentary style with which he paints everything in his paintings, the silliness in these labels and borders between groups of people.I've come to the conclusion that he is a genius. Personally, my definition of genius, at least n the realm of art, is to be simple enough for a child to understand but complex enough to keep an adult thinking.
Maybe you don’t get it. Maybe it’s not something for you to get. A few months ago I was having a conversation with my brother Renato and was telling him about that uncomfortable feeling that comes when you post something like a blog post. As a person you choose to share your real opinion with a handful of people, but when you share any form of art with people, honest art, you have this moment where you are wondering what the people who read it will think. During that conversation with Renato, he told me when you make/write something and give it to the world it belongs to the world. There is nothing you can do at that point but be proud of you for sharing it and hope people appreciate it.
Peace & Love,
Below is an interesting excerpt from the movie.
Interviewer: Are you a painter or black painter?
JMB: Oh, I use a lot of colors not just black.
JMB: It’s more a creole you know? And what I mean by creole is that it’s a mix of Africa and Europe. In much the same way that an African in Haiti speaks french.
Interviewer: Isn’t your father from Haiti?