A recent controversy has sparked an outcry in the entertainment industry when Grammy-award winning rapper/songwriter Kanye West released his new music video featuring sleepless celebrities, a former politician, and a presidential candidate all stripped of their clothing while sleeping beside each other in bed. Included in the video were his wife Kim Kardashian, Ray J, Amber Rose, George Bush, Bill Cosby, Caitlyn Jenner, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Anna Wintour, Donald Trump, and Taylor Swift.
Arguably a talented artist, Kanye West has always made sure to add what he considers his own version of art in his work. But from the looks of it, the kind of art that he has showed the world this time was not a thing of beauty as my perception tells me, but of perversion.
It would have been acceptable if the images had been shown with the consent of the ones involved, but it seems that even Taylor Swift knew nothing about it before it was released to the public. Emmy Award-nominated actress Lena Dunham even labeled it disturbing, emphasizing that presenting the nude bodies of the women in the video could be an attack against them.
Like many works of art, Kanye West’s music video can be interpreted in various ways depending on the viewers’ discretion. However, the obvious cannot be ignored. The video clearly showed bodies, naked and nude, not as forms of expression but as degraded sexual objects that could allow West’s fans to mock and make fun of these people. And although the rapper definitely invokes his right to artistic freedom, he may not have been aware that he already violated some of these people’s right to privacy. Surely, one’s nakedness or nudity is something that should remain private unless the person delivers his or her personal consent for someone to present it to the public (and these famous people, I presume, do not intend to pursue porn).
This issue had me worrying about the world’s dynamic standard of art and where it’s headed. In 2011, German sculptor Marcel Walldorf exhibited a statue of a policewoman dressed in riot gear, squatting over the floor to urinate. Just above the synthetic puddle that resembled the figure’s urine, the sculpture’s organ was exposed. How does this gesture relate to the sculpture being a policewoman? If she’d be geared in her identical uniform, shouldn’t the artist have come up with a more relatable pose? One which may truly define the sculpture’s identity such as standing firm on her ground or defending herself with a shield in case the rioting mob would throw stones or sharp objects at her? How does urinating validate her being a policewoman? Why hasn’t a gesture that should have emphasized her duty been shown instead?
Perhaps the artist has an explanation for this and perhaps patrons of modern art can prove me wrong. But if we compare these famous works of modern art to the classical masterpieces in the Renaissance, we may discover that the art we have today have not truly reached the standards of those in history. One glance at Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and we’d be mystified by her smile. One gaze at Michaelangelo’s David and Pieta and we’d wonder how the Italian artist was able to carve these statues like living beings turned into stone with so much detail and concise anatomy. Among the numerous works of art during the Renaissance era, we could learn by how artists during that glorious period have endeavored and succeeded to astound anyone who could lay his or her eyes upon them by the artists’ transcendental techniques.
But what happened to art in this day and age? A cow dung dashed into a wall could give one the impression that it’s a daring work of art. I say it’s absurd, because why should an excrement be used to embody a thing of beauty? Yoko Ono’s Hammer and Nail had been spattered with drops of blood. Why should one purposefully injure one’s self just to display something that probably any carpenter can do better? A pen hanging on the edge of a table with glue to its end can symbolize balance – but is this it? A white canvas splashed with different paints without any particular pattern can resemble life’s liberty; this may be so to others, but to someone who can’t see beyond the mix of colors, it’s all just a canvass stained with different colors.
One video that I had come across on Youtube was a lecture by a renowned artist, Robert Florczak about the idea of modern art. In it, he shared about the methods commonly used by the Renaissance artists which had been pushed out from the values held by modern art. He talked about how Renaissance artists demanded the highest standards of excellence, improved upon the work of previous masters, and aspired to the highest quality attainable. These values are quite the contrary to modern artists who have abused artistic freedom and have justified their abuse by proposing that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; that is, if a cow dung dashed into a wall can be beautiful for the artist who did it, it shall be labeled that way and be exhibited in galleries for all to see and marvel. An egotistic rapper can consider a music video featuring naked or nude bodies reduced to objects of entertainment a piece of art and highly demand for its appreciation, and his fans consider him the prophet of modern art. Should this be perpetuated?
While the paintings in the Renaissance era have competed against the brilliance of contrasting colors, life-like images, and precise scenes of societal conflicts, art in this day and age all resulted from the artist’s zeal to achieve popularity. Artistic transcendence instead is replaced by a modern artist’s pursuit for fame. And we definitely know that any artwork that deviates from the conventional, rebels against shared ideas of righteousness, or sparks controversy can engrave the artist’s name on the frames of fame. Modern art then ends up accepting the distasteful, the offensive, and the perverted. Perhaps West’s music video did indeed encapsulate the title of the song in it. He’s more famous now for condoning perversion in what he considers his artwork – fame resulted from immorality.
In relation to this, mediocrity has also been given the spotlight judging by the quality of most works in modern art. Reiterating the examples mentioned earlier, the stain of a cow dung, a plywood impaled with nails, and a canvass of confusing colors can be considered abstract and deserve the interpretation of any of their viewers. But how could we be overwhelmed by these when these would lead us to think that they were crafted in mediocrity without any visible artistic quality and only rely on the value of interpretation (as if the interpretation of others is reasonable)?
I daresay we need to reconsider modern art. If artists today would defend these kinds of works by saying there are no fixed rules to art, then what’s stopping someone from criticizing their work if rules should not be involved? Perhaps one can be an artist in his or her rightful way. But if art is being used to offend, disgust, and perverse like Kanye West’s new music video, consider it a crime and not a thing of beauty. What I believe about art is that it should inspire, astound, and gratify – transcending beyond the mundane, uniting the conflicting perceptions of its viewers, and opening the possibility that beauty can be achieved and appreciated not by ego but by skill and passion.
After all, we’re not in the Renaissance anymore. Shouldn’t modern art improve a hundred times better than the classics crafted by the revolutionary patrons hundreds of years ago? Modern artists, I hope you reconsider it as well. You should know better.