I don’t like the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
There, I said it.
I imagine that’s what it must have felt coming out of the closet as a young gay male, maybe 30 years ago. Breaking conventions, stepping on sensitive toes, killing holy cows, admitting the unspeakable — and in this case, any attempt to justify my opinion will be hopelessly impossible. Basquiat was gay, so I must be homophobic. His skin color was brown, coming from a Puerto Rican/ Haïtian family, so I must be racist. He was a heroin junkie, so I must belong to, at least sympathize with, some “Just Say No” organization. He was a graffiti artist, so I must be a realtor/ developer concerned about declining property values. He was provocative , a protester and rebel, so I must be conservative and conventional. He befriended Andy Warhol, another artist I don’t like, so I must be hopelessly oldfashioned and pedestrian.
I’m none of the above, believe it or not. I don’t like his work because it looks like incoherent superficial rambling to me. His admirers applaud the fact that he strings together cartoon characters and the Mona Lisa, Egyptian murals and generic stick figures, but this seems flat, without much depth; like a random cross-section of the dictionary. There is little technique and less meaning.
My friend Peter Rowntree, the painter, maintains that art should be the product of Wisdom and Compassion, and he states that “…deficits of Wisdom (and who of us does not have a deficit of Wisdom?) may be partially offset by talent, craftsmanship, earnestness, and industry. Nothing can offset a deficit of Compassion.” I see neither of these qualities in Basquiat’s work, and his fame reminds me of the Emperor’s New Clothes.