To create the soundtrack for our stories about the evolution of art, we turned mostly to songs inspired by visual artists, from Pablo Picasso to René Magritte to Frida Kahlo. Lady Gaga not only name-checked the artist Jeff Koons in a song on her album Artpop, she convinced Koons to design the album’s cover art. We’ve included the title track here. Jay-Z, in “Picasso Baby,” mentions several visual artists, including Koons, Picasso, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as he imagines filling his home with artworks. The video for “Picasso Baby,” a “performance art film” shot at New York City’s Pace Gallery, is an homage to performance artist Marina Abramović, who appears in it.
For songs about pop artist Andy Warhol, we turned to David Bowie, but also to Lou Reed and John Cale, former members of the Velvet Underground — the avant-garde rock band that performed in Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows in 1966 and 1967. “Style It Takes,” from Songs For Drella, Reed and Cale’s 1990 album about Warhol, is sung by Cale, but it’s written with Warhol as main character and narrator. “This is a rock group called The Velvet Underground,” Cale sings. “I show movies on them/Do you like the sound?/’Cause they have a style that grates.”
Florence + the Machine’s 2011 song “What the Water Gave Me” is named after, and inspired by, Frida Kahlo’s 1938 painting of the same name. Dar Williams’ “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono” celebrates Ono as a groundbreaking conceptual artist, not just a rock star’s wife — though it includes flashes of irreverent wit about Ono and her work (“Challenging the warring nations/With her paper installations”). Which brings us to one of Ono’s friends and contemporaries. No need to adjust your Spotify for John Cage’s “4’33”,” which allmusic.com describes as “among the most notorious touchstones of twentieth century music.” Cage, an experimental composer, often challenged concepts of what music is, especially with this composition, “in which the performers are instructed to remain silent for four minutes and thirty-three seconds.”
Listen to our playlist as you read our September and October stories on the future of art.