Collaborations between fine art and pop music are nothing new at this point in the early 21st century. It is a relationship that has stood the test of time and still continues, only with combinations of new artists, new music and a new generation of mass culture devotees. From the 1950’s pop music has been developing via parallel advancements in technology, and this mirrors the evolution of fine art. But in the last several years there has been a loud shift in the sound of the most prevalent genres of pop music along with what is considered to be viable in the of the realm of commercial songs. In an article by Ben Valentine on the subject of contemporary art and pop music, he notices that references to artworks and theories are slowly creeping back into Pop’s consciousness. Though minor nods to high art have never completely fled the scene, there is an abundant surge that is now splashing the mindsets and music videos of the most famous recording artists today.
Music artists like Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga created their own visual showcases to exhibit their interest in painters, sculptors and other visual artists. Valentine points out that, “in keeping with Nicki Minaj’s absurd pop style, her track ‘The Boys, (feat. Cassie)’ has a video that includes a Yayoi Kusama-esque installation as a backdrop.” Yet Minaj is not alone in finding inspiration in the deeds of practitioners of fine art; recently many other pop performers are following the road down the hip contemporary art way, and allowing input from other creative areas to help style their imagery. Fine art and pop music have reflected off each other for decades, and both continue to be rapidly consumed by publics hungry for more. It only makes sense that both are broadly available— in person at concerts at gallery openings, so easily online and sometimes even together as a collective piece.
While most pop music artists make a reference to possibly one or two fine artists, there have been special occasions when an artist made a clearer statement. In 2013 Lady Gaga’ released a video for her single “Applause,” from the album she chose to name ArtPop. An entire host of art historical references play out during the music video, and Gaga is an artist who has always found fine art to be an inspirational jumping off point for her music, her stage presence and how she models herself during interviews and other appearances. The “Applause” video opens with an absurdly large hat signed “Lady Gaga”, pointing a finger at works of Marcel Duchamp, who would sign something and then declared it art. Gaga channeled her own ingenuity through the lens of prominent visual art, and it’s no surprise that she studied fine art during her youth. Such an educational background allows musical artists to explore their creative potential under a different set of archetypes than those who stick solely to music theory.
This blending of high and what is considered to be low culture is significant, and wields the power to break down barriers that split the art world from the music scene. Freer from restriction, those who are from less-educated backgrounds or retain only Top 40 knowledge could, through some kind of audio-visual osmosis, absorb talking points from art history, film, theatre, fashion and other creative industries.
Last year Aubrey Graham, also known as Drake the Canadian rap and R&B artist, contributed to an exhibition at Sotheby’s spring auction highlighting the works of prominent contemporary artists, including Kara Walker, Glenn Ligon, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Graham was the first urban rap artist to collaborate with Sotheby’s in this manner, and this is a key happening for the blending of patrician and plebian culture, giving another glimpse into what the future could hold for the nature of the undivided arts.