Today’s Art: February 2nd 2019

For this month’s post we’ve decided to shine a light on the art, both mainstream and niche, that has influenced and inspired us.

Every piece of art, whether it’s music, film, TV, sculpture or a book is an opportunity for us to learn more about ourselves. It can be so easy to take art at face value, after all it’s common for us in the 21st century to do this instead of taking the time to peek under the surface and question the intent and purpose of a piece of art.

In this age of short-form video content (Snapchat/Instagram/YouTube) it can be so easy to simply watch or observe a piece of art and judge it upon its aesthetic merit, but there’s so much more to appreciating and creating art than simply making something beautiful. Take, for example, the work of Picasso:

Picasso was an artist, unlike like many others, who was rewarded greatly for his artistic skills during his lifetime. This piece, known as ‘Girl Before a Mirror‘ is abstract, disjointed and confusing. Despite his huge fame in the art community and the widespread cultural impact that his work has had, many ordinary folks found it difficult connecting with these paintings due to how different they initially appeared.

However, to pick apart what Picasso is attempting to achieve with this painting involves the same analytical skills that it takes to pick apart a modern day music video. Let’s have a look at Childish Gambino’s massive hit video/single ‘This Is America’:

There’s a lot to take in with this video. Music videos, by their nature can pack in far more information than a painting, this is because the viewer not only has to pay attention to the nuances in the music: instrumentation, rhythm, structure, lyrics and melody; but they are also forced to watch and analyse the moving images as if it were a film. This involves assessing the performance of the artist, the framing the director uses, narrative, costumes, dance choreography, special effects – and any other device the artist chooses to employ to present their music.

Once we’ve got our head round the concepts involved in the music and the video, we also have to decide if and how the concepts fit together or clash, as that too contributes to the overall reading of the music video as a piece of art.

The irony here is that, although there is a great deal more information to attempt to decipher in Childish Gambino’s video than there is in Picasso’s ‘Girl Before A Mirror’, the delivery of the video and clarity of his message makes it far easier to understand as a concept. He repeats the phrase ‘This is America’, so we can understand that everything in the video is his presentation of the country America, giving us a contextual backbone by which to draw the links between the images that are presented to us (a gospel choir, mass shootings, abandoned cars) with the content of his lyrics (satirical takes on black people pursuing money and fame through criminal or morally questionable means).

At first glance, ‘Girl Before A Mirror’ does not offer as much literal information for us to work with, but the information is there if we choose to pry under the surface as we’ve done with ‘This Is America’. The image we see is a woman gazing at her reflection in the mirror, so we could instantly suggest that artwork is concerned with ‘the self’ or even vanity. Oddly, we see three sides to the woman’s face, two on the non-reflected side and only one in the reflection. Is Picasso trying to tell us that the real reflection of ourselves lies within, rather than in the physical world?

As you can see, all it takes to understand and analyse a piece of art, whether its an abstract painting from the 30s or a music video from 2018 is the agency and capacity ask questions.