Florence 1983I 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.

history_of_black_people.jpgI’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.

Art critic Robert Hughes has similar views, and here is a touching response to Hughes, written by John Seed.


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7 Responses to TABOO

  1. jessica says:

    Diane, you totally nailed the way I feel, and expressed it much clearer than I could have done.
    Jonathan, you’re right, I don’t see the deeper meaning, any more than one sees the emperor’s clothes when he runs around naked. B. does utilize meaningful symbols, but they lose their richness and meaning and become flat. Why is children’s art not being sold for millions of dollars? Because (almost) every child has the spontaneity and freedom that make their work so adorable. But to call them professional artists makes the term essentially useless, in my eyes.

  2. Diane says:

    There is nothing I would change about it without changing the artist. Art is subjective. Art is not a quantifiable subject. Art is or it isn’t. I see his art and it says nothing to me aside from just what you said, the scrawl of a child. Based on this I am unimpressed. I see his torment, but I too am tormented, so what. Inspire me, move me to feel, move me to think in new ways. That to me is art. This artist does none of those things for me. So I won’t be rushing out and spending money on any of the posters or post cards, or attending a showing.

  3. Jonathan says:

    I think you don’t like his art because you aren’t seeing the deeper meanings of the art. His art looks childish, and because of that it is incredible. Children are professional artists without the bullshit training. You said you didn’t like his art, but what would you change about it to make you like it?

  4. Diane says:

    Holy cow. Here’s a story that speaks to clever Gallery owners and the gullible nature of people with more money than brains.

    I lived in a Montana college town several years ago. There were many street people. One in particular I saw everyday at the Library, walking to his place in the woods, at a local watering hole, asking for spare change on the street.

    While sitting in the library he drew obsessively with a Bic pen, horizontal, straight lines until the page out of a standard notebook was a dark ink filled void.

    I saw him doing this for three years. Same routine, woods,library, street, watering hole, woods.

    One day I’m reading the local Independent, and behold an artist has been discovered in our midst. There was a photo of the homeless man whom had been discovered by a visiting Boston Gallery owner.

    Our homeless man was selling his ink filled sheets of paper to Boston art lovers through the Gallery and was off the street.

    I’m sure he never sold one for 5.5 million, but you never know.

  5. Jessica says:

    This would be an interesting topic for a separate blog entry: the manipulation of the art market by clever gallery owners. Art is an investment business. I got motivated to write about Basquiat when I read that one of his paintings sold for $5.5 million.

  6. Diane says:

    I checked out all your links. Looked at more of his art, and I stand by my original comment.

    If he is a critically acclaimed artist, my quick sketch portraits are masterpieces in comparison.

    I know art is subjective, and I don’t get it.

  7. Diane says:

    If these are examples of this young, dark skinned, gay graffiti artists work, and I assume they are, I’ll go out on a limb and say, “I’ve seen more moving graffiti on the side of a semi rolling down the interstate.”

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