Kanye West is perhaps the most polarizing celebrity figure, outside Donald Trump, we have seen. It is easy to see why people love Kanye, his funky hip hop beats of the 2000s set the ground work for artists like Travis Scott and truly revolutionized the direction of hip hop. Not to mention his unparalleled way of creating hype over everything he does and ability to give us everything we need before we know we need it. On the flip side, it is easy to see why so many people have disdain for the artist. His disregard for tradition and overwhelming hubris turns a lot of people away. One of the most controversial but interesting things he said came on his infamous trip to sway in the morning,
“I am Warhol. I am the No. 1 most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh … Now who is going to stand up and be the Medici and let me create more, or are you going to marginalize me until I am out of my moment.”
The contents of this message are overshadowed by Kanye’s sheer arrogance, but when did we consider people like Kanye West to be artists? Musicians, abstract painters, rappers and designers were not always welcome in the art circle. It was not until the middle of World War I that creative expression was the prerequisite for art and not simply visual satisfaction.
A famous French-American painter, sculptor, chess player and writer whose work is associated with Cubism, conceptual art, and Dada by the name of Marcel Duchamp changed it all when he refused to accept art by Henri Matisse into his Dada. Many people thought that World War I may lead to the end of the world, so artists like Duchamp attempted to put together a collection of art, a Dada, that would represent humanity to exist long after the destruction of mankind. Duchamp rejected the work of many of his fellow artists (like Henri Matisse) as “retinal” art, intended only to please the eye. Instead, Duchamp wanted to use art to serve the mind.
This move, changed the course of what is considered art, and paved the way for musicians, fashion designers, and even chef’s to be considered artists. He defined art as something that should be experienced philosophically and emotionally instead of something to be solely enjoyed visibly. Celebrated artwork prior to 1900 is more often than not beautifully crafted sculptures and grand works by painters with masterful strokes that mean very little. While modern art is eternally up for interpretation, and purposefully ambiguous. Generational artists like Mark Rothko, Banksy and Jean-Michel Basquiat would have been accepted prior to the stance of Dunchamp.
Marcel Duchamp, a name that paved the way for the most impactful artists of our generation.
Even Kanye West.