by carl wilson

Truckload of (Songs About) Art

Jeff Koons, Lips, 2000. Oil on canvas, 120 x 172 inches. Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin. T130.2000.
Photo by David Heald. See no. 37.

In case you're curious, here's the playlist for the three hours of music about (mostly) art, artists and art processes that I programmed for the Power Plant last weekend. Some of the connections are more solid than others, when I was just following whims. From my research, I think I can safely say the peak of people making songs about art took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and I sure didn't find many appropriate songs that weren't by white people. Was I overlooking something?

1. Pablo Picasso - John Cale (cover of the Modern Lovers)
2. Don't Stop Now - Christian Marclay (solo)
3. Comic Strip - Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot
4. Smash The Beauty Machine - Future Bible Heroes
5. Ambergris March - Björk (from the soundtrack to Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9)
6. The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton - The Mountain Goats ("so in script that made prominent use of a pentagram, they stenciled their drumheads and guitars with their names")
7. Art Class (Song For Yayoi Kusama) - Superchunk
8. Painter In Your Pocket - Destroyer
9. Art For Art's Sake - 10CC
10. Artistiya - Amadou & Mariam
11. Portrait of the Artist as a Fountain - Simon Bookish
12. He Poos Clouds - Final Fantasy (video-game as art)
13. The Death of the Composer Was in 1962 - Tony Conrad (death of the composer/author/artist...)
14. Race Track - Albatross Note (Marcel Dzama's band)
15. Abstract Art - The Flying Colours
16. Truckload of Art - Cracker (covering Texan sculptor-musician Terry Allen)
17. What About Me? - The Nihilist Spasm Band (recorded when Greg Curnoe was still alive and in the band)
18. Painting And Kissing - Hefner
19. Kule Kule Reprise - Konono Nº1 (band of readymades)
20. Max Ernst - Mission Of Burma
21. Fluxus - Chicago Underground Duo
22. U-J3RK5 Work For Police - U-J3RK5 (Vancouver early-80s band including Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and Ian Wallace)
23. Jacques Derrida - Scritti Politti
24. Random Rules - The Silver Jews ("I asked the painter why all the roads were coloured black")
25. 15 Years - Veda Hille (lyrics from diaries of Emily Carr)
26. Groupmegroup - Liquid Liquid (you know, Group of 7, Aktion Group...)
27. The Beautiful Ones - Prince ("Paint a perfect picture/ Bring 2 life a vision in one's mind/ The beautiful ones/ Always smash the picture/ Always everytime")
28. Amazing Backgrounds - Michelle McAdorey & Eric Chenaux
29. Edallab Indelibile - Michael Snow
30. Catholic Fashion - Ninja High School ("fibreglass hummingbird! tiny bird looks rad!")
31. Every Work of Art is an Uncommitted Crime - “Theodor Adorno” (aka Toronto artist Brian Joseph Davis)
32. Steam and Sequins for Larry Levan - Matmos (because this song is conceptual art)
33. Abstract Nympho - Chrome
34. Gepetto - Vic Chesnutt (arts vs. crafts)
35. Mona Lisa - Slick Rick
36. Obscene And Pornographic Art - Bongwater
37. Jeff Koons - Momus
38. Art Star - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
39. Run Run Run to the Centre Pompidou - Grant Hart
40. Salvador Dali's Garden Party - Television Personalities
41. Masters of Our Feelings - Barcelona Pavilion ("your art is lazy and your art is irresponsible!")
42. Yarn and Glue - Joanna Newsom
43. Mapplethorpe Grey - Pig Destroyer
44. Mario y Maria - Butch Hancock
45. Transformer - Gnarls Barkley
46. What Road? - Destroyer ("able, willing, ready/ fuck the Spiral Jetty/ tonight we work large!")
47. Elaeu - Tom Zé (I really have no justification except that I wanted some Tom Ze here)
48. Approaching the Minimal With Spray Guns - X-X
49. Galang - MIA (the latest most notorious art-school musician)
50. Cut Your Hair - Casey Deinel (Pavement cover, on the theme of creativity vs. careerism)
51. Artists Only - Talking Heads
52. (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures - The Revillos (live)
53. All This Useless Beauty - Elvis Costello
54. Story of an Artist - Daniel Johnston
55. Musical Sculpture - S.E.M. Ensemble (composed by Marcel Duchamp)

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 05 at 2:47 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (21)



"In the Gallery", by Dire Straits --

"Then you get an artist, who says he doesn't want to paint at all / He takes an empty canvas and puts it on the wall."

In that context (i.e., played at the Power Plant), the anti-modernart critique might've been more in-your-face than just about anything else we have ever associated with Dire Straits...

Posted by orts on July 9, 2006 11:09 AM



Whoa, kind of surprised not to see Rammelzee's "Beat Bop", Basquiat helped with production, did the cover, and Ramelzee is still a prolific artist today. Not about graff, but still...
Songs about graff:
Company Flow "End to End Burners"
Artifacts "Wrong Side of the Tracks"
Rakim mentions it in a verse
and to blow my own horn:
Stop Die Resuscitate "Crylon", plus our cover was done by STAGE ONE who's been a prolific writer for like 15 years or more.

Posted by lukeraptastic on July 7, 2006 3:53 PM



"Art Lover" by Lambchop. Okay, not really about art per se, as much as it is about what people can achieve--or avoid--by wrongly labeling something "art" and the related icky implications. Also the best (only?) song about pedophilia I've ever heard.

Posted by hershey on July 7, 2006 2:41 PM



Really interesting list--that must have been quite an undertaking! What sprang to mind for me, of course, was "Meet James Ensor" by TMBG. :-)

Posted by Jamie on July 7, 2006 7:13 AM



Hey Carl, Great list. I do one a week from tonight. A couple off the top of my head: "Andy Warhol by David Bowie ('71) and "Save Me Damien" by Dave Stewart (of the Eurthymics). Hirst did the cover art for him, too.

Posted by Dave Dyment on July 6, 2006 11:44 PM



It's getting tenuous, but:

Jay-Z, "What More Can I Say"

"they don't paint pictures, they just trace me."

Posted by Nathan on July 6, 2006 8:03 PM



U-J3RK5 also have a catchy number called Naum Gabo (see

Posted by Michelangelo on July 6, 2006 4:32 PM



Well, back in 82 graffiti artist FUTURA 2000 appeared on The Clash's COMBAT ROCK on the song "Overpowered by Funk" and rapped the following about tagging: "Don't prophisize the future
I liven up the culture
Because I'm deadly as a vulture
It's environmentally wack
So presenting my attack
I'll brighten up your shack
I'm down by law
That's a fact
Just give me a wall.
Any building dull or tall
I spray clandestine night subway
I cover red purple on top of grey
Hey, no slashing cuz it ain't the way
The T.A. blew 40 mil they say
We thew down by night
They scrubbed it off by day"

Sorry that's such a long quote. The Clash also appeared on the Tomorrow Show, I believe, with Futura painting a wall in the background while they performed "This is Radio Clash"

Posted by stanley on July 6, 2006 3:21 PM



"Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon" -- Queen.

"I come from London town
I'm just an ordinary guy
Fridays I go painting in the Louvre"

For camp upper-class pastiche, you can't beat it!

Carl, those hip hop songs you're missing might not exist.

"The Prophet" by Dolphy! Dedicated to the painter Richard "Prophet" Jennings who painted the covers to some of his Prestige albums.

Posted by john on July 6, 2006 3:10 PM



Actually, a bigger regret: Not knowing any of the great hip-hop songs about graffiti that must be out there. Anyone?

Posted by zoilus on July 6, 2006 12:35 PM



scsiduck - i didn't mean curnoe was the only artist in the NSB - my comment was just an answer to the implicit question, "why this song?" (the other part of the answer being, it's not very long.)

josh - i didn't really mean anything metatextual by choosing covers over originals. it's simply for the same reason that i didn't put, for instance, "A Case of You" or "Andy Warhol" in it - to keep the mix interesting.

biggest regret: not being able to find that Art & Language song in digital form. i only have it on tape.

Posted by zoilus on July 6, 2006 12:33 PM



What about "Vincent Van Gough" by Jonathan Richman?

Posted by Miss T on July 6, 2006 9:55 AM



"Paint Box" - Pink Floyd

Posted by Nathan on July 6, 2006 9:34 AM



"Art School by the Jam.

"Art Lover" by the Kinks.

Siouxsie's "The Scream", albeit it's an album title, not a song.

Patti Smith's "Up There Down Here" I always thought of in this context, only because I always found the couplet "The abstract streets / The lights like some switched-on Mondrian" eminently hummable.

And Red Krayola + Art Language's "Portrait of V.I.Lenin in the Style of Jackson Pollock (Parts I and 2)", source of the oft-quoted but always-worth-re-quoting lyric "They say it's art killed Pollock/As if that could be/In fact he missed a bend/And drove his Ford into a tree".

And those Television Personalities - off the top of my head, "David Hockney's Diaries", "He Used to Paint in Colours", "Lichtenstein Painting", "Painter Man", "The Man Who Painted Rainbows", "A Picture of Dorian Gray" - I am sure there are others - Dan Treacy does seem predisposed towards writing about art.

Posted by Stanley on July 6, 2006 8:07 AM



Do some of these just reference art rather than have it as a subject? And, if art-referencing is your game, wouldn't any cover be a song that references another song ie art? And if referencing another song or musician is fair play, then wouldn't any rap dis track be eligible? Kind of a slippery slope that leads to non-white artists. BUT not meant to offend your list. This line of thinking emerged when I wondered why you prefer Modern Lovers and Pavement covers over the originals...

Posted by Josh on July 6, 2006 7:39 AM



Nice mix, Carl, but your comment about the Spasm Band makes me wonder if you might enjoy a Murray Favro primer:;=A1ARTA0002743

Posted by scsiduck on July 6, 2006 7:13 AM



A few more:

Mel Torme & Peggy Lee sang a duet called "The Old Master Painter," but the painter in question is God. There's a 15-second-or-so instrumental cover of it on Brian Wilson's "Smile."

"When I Paint My Masterpiece" -- Dylan.

"A Case of You" -- Joni Mitchell -- perfect for Canada Day! "I am a lonely painter, I live in a box of paints."

"You're the Top" -- Cole Porter. "You're an O'Neill drama, you're Whistler's mama, you're camembert!" OK, that's a stretch.

"If" by Bread.
If a picture paints a thousand words
Then why can't I paint you
The words will never show
The you I've come to know . . .

Posted by john on July 6, 2006 2:32 AM



"Even if she's an alcoholic,
or an impossible genius like Jackson Pollock."

From a Deep Dark United song, but I can't remember what it's actually called.

Does "Garden of Earthly Delights" by XTC count?

Posted by Nathan on July 5, 2006 11:04 PM



I'm impressed you did it with only one John Cale song, and a cover at that, and nothing from "Song for Drella."

Mm, "Mona Lisa" by the Sons of Freedom?

Posted by Nathan on July 5, 2006 8:37 PM



There's "Modern Art" by Art Brut, and that Kids on TV song that namechecks Keith Cole...

Oh, and "Andy Warhol", but it's kind of terrible.

Posted by chris r. on July 5, 2006 7:18 PM



Great theme, Carl. I've thought of a few to add, although the idea of programming three hours would soon have me resorting to songs about colours (Ken Nordine hopefully excluded).

Leroy Sibbles - Express Yourself
Art Ensemble - Dreaming of the Masters
John Cage - Imaginary Landscape #1
Hermann + Kleine - Wonder
Add N to X - You Must Create
Laibach - Nova Akropola
The Lapse - The Speeding Train
New Kingdom - Animal
Bisk - Why are there such Variations
or Mockup
Jad Fair and Yo La Tengo - Feisty Millionaire Fills Potholes With Hundred Dollar Bills
Four Tet - Glue of the World
Deerhoof - Spirit Ditties of No Tone

Posted by Half on July 5, 2006 7:16 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson