February 18, 2004

No matter how much I love art, or try to convince myself of its relevance in society, the fact remains that music is a lot cooler and way more able to reach the bourgeois (and not so) and rock the boulevard. When I am asked about my biggest influences, my interrogator is often surprised to hear “The Sex Pistols”, “Black Flag”, “Public Enemy”, generally expecting me to list off visual artists. I guess I feel like the power of something comes from the feelings it conjures emotinally first and intellectually second. I’ve never been to an an art show and felt like the art had a hold over every person in the room, much less looked over my shoulder to see 50,000 lighters held up in a show of solidarity for Ozzy’s cause. Have you ever seen someone come out of an an art show pouring with sweat, a glazed look in their eyes, throwing their fist in the air like they just had a religious experience? Art shows don’t seem to elicit that level of enthusiasm. Actually, at a lot of art shows, people are more worried about checking out the crowd than checking out the art. I can’t really blame them when the art itself is less engaging than the written description on the wall next to it …I’m yawning just thinking about it.

The truth is, I always fell asleep during art history lectures in college, but I’ve never fallen asleep at a single concert. Am I the exception? I don’t think so.

Art is just outgunned in the battle for the senses. Music has the ability to stimulate on so many levels and I’m not just talking about live music. Music provides a cultural eco-system in and of itself. There’s the actual music, the lyrics with their content and politics, the style and personalities of the bandmembers and the politics implicit in their lifestyles, and lastly, their art, album packaging and graphics. I’ve had some very moving encounters with art, especially on the street, but nothing can compare with the first time I heard the boots marching and first chord of the Sex Pistol’s “Holidays in the Sun”, or the air raid sirens leading into “too black, too strong” on the intro to Public Enemy’s “It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back”. Those songs made my arm hairs stand up. Some music has affected me so powerfully that the mere sight of the album packaging induced a Pavlovian response (scientific analogy makes it sound less pathetic) of air guitar or drums!

I mean, come on, who hasn’t secretly but whole-heartedly identified with Beavis and Butthead imitating Sabbath’s “Iron Man”? Bob Ross can only dream of as many people watching his painting show as watch “Beavis and Butthead” or now more likely “The Osbournes”. Let’s face it, music is a huge influence on popular culture and even Andy Warhol, the most successful of “Pop Artists”, is less widely known than musical acts comparably much lower on the totem pole. Warhol can actually be credited with exploiting the potential to connect with a broader audience through Pop. His collaboration with the Velvet Underground led to the iconic banana album cover. That graphic would be just another part of the Warhol “let’s make a mundane object into high art” schtick (not that that’s a bad thing) if it weren’t associated with such an influential and enduring band. The marriage of great art, great music, and great ideas is an incredibly powerful one. Hell, even two of those elements converging harmoniously yields something whose whole is more than the sum of its parts. I used Public Enemy to illustrate this spread because they are one of the rare acts, along with people like The Clash and The Sex Pistols, who brilliantly crafted every aspect of what they were doing and maximized the results. Great name, great beats, great rhymes, provocative politics, powerful graphics and presentation (can’t front on the S1W’s) and a defiant attitude that scared “The Man” made Public Enemy a force to be reckoned with. They probably raised more issues in the three years after their debut than the worlds visual artists will during their lifetimes. For a visual artist such as myself, this harsh reality provides the challenge to make my art as much of an engaging, stimulating, provocative, visceral experience as possible. To quote Chuck D, “I want to reach the bourgeois and rock the boulevard”. I don’t want people to only experience my art in the safe, tame confines of the gallery, which is why I put my art up illegally in the streets. I’m a populist and I look at it this way: I may not play an instrument, but I’m gonna rock it hard as nails anyway.