Artist-Musicians, Musician-Artists

4 Versatile artist personalities

From the 1970s onward, art schools were the point of origin for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work. For students they were not so much a desired goal as the lesser evil in third-level educational environment in that they provided enough freedom to be able to develop one’s own ideas. Trends in music such as punk and new wave motivated numerous art students to make music themselves. Art schools were not only the ideal place to perform; the audiences were also more open than elsewhere to unusual musical ideas, crazy outfits, and spectacular performances. The importance of art schools as breeding grounds for noteworthy pop music around 1980 can be seen in the following illustrious lineup of former art students: Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Joe Strummer (The Clash), Marc Almond (Soft Cell), and PJ Harvey all became famous through their music.[11]

Malcolm McLaren, who studied at a variety of different art academies — such as Goldsmith’s College — before going down in the history of pop music as the founder of punk esthetics, played a special role in Britain.

With the aim of provoking and breaking taboos, he not only made the term ‘punk’ popular in England together with the band he managed — the Sex Pistols — but also established punk as a hybrid and alienating style using situationist strategies and in close collaboration with the artist Jamie Reid and with Vivienne Westwood (with whom he ran a boutique, initially called Let it Rock and from 1974 named Sex). In later years, he summarized his ambitions as follows: It was about creating a glorious adventure from non-existent talent and unprofessionalism. Most of my ideas and art products are simply the result of my attitude to life. And are intended to cause unrest.[12]

In the case of the musical genres mentioned here, more importance was placed on the energy of the acoustic expression and the authenticity of the presentation than on musical virtuosity and perfectionism. It was not necessary to provide proof of professional training; on the contrary, at the beginning of the 1980s, an intentional dilettantism was extremely popular both in pop music and in the visual arts.

For a whole series of artist-musicians/musician-artists, the principle that a good punk song only needed three chords applied just as much as the do-it-yourself attitude. The Geniale Dilletanten (Dilettante Geniuses), who took an interdisciplinary approach, were among the bands that emerged from this context. Their work was presented above all at the Festival genialer Dilletanten (Festival of Dilettante Geniuses) held on September 4, 1981, at the Tempodrom venue in Berlin (featuring, among others, Einstürzende Neubauten, Frieder Butzmann, and Christiane F.) and in a book published by Wolfgang Müller in 1982. In the introductory text, Müller explains that he understands genius as an intensity in dealing with the material.[13] Musically speaking, this meant in those days above all that: Anyone can make noise, for that you don’t need digital recording equipment or a 36-track studio with thousands of sophisticated elements.[14] The group founded by Wolfgang Müller, Die Tödliche Doris, was accordingly versatile, releasing records, producing art works, holding performances, and making videos such as the legendary Naturkatastrophenballett (Ballet of Natural Disasters; 1983).

Such a free of approach to the disciplines is characteristic of the 1980s, in which numerous artists did not confine themselves to one form of expression but were filmmakers, painters, performance artists, architects, musicians, authors, critics, and theorists all at the same time, operating in equal measure in various fields, with Warhol as an important point of reference.

The point was not to link different arts with one another but to find an appropriate means of expression for a particular idea, to test concepts in another field, or simply to extend one’s own radius of effect.

Laurie Anderson, for example, had a career both as an artist (as a performance artist she participated in documenta 7, 1982, and documenta 8, 1987) and as a musician (her song O Superman reached no. 2 in the British charts in 1981). In her oeuvre she combines Fluxus tradition with new wave. Her interest in multimedia manifests itself in opulent performances such as the eight-hour opera United States I-IV (1983). Talking Heads member David Byrne, on the other hand, has worked successfully as a director, photographer, and visual artist.

Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth, in addition to her musical career and occasional activities as a music producer, continued to work as a fine artist and curator and acted at the beginning of the 1980s as an art critic for Artforum. Her musical career began when she was invited by Dan Graham to collaborate in a performance with a girl’s band. Graham, who himself never confined himself to one profession but worked simultaneously as a visual artist, critic, cultural theorist, photographer, architect, and gallery owner, was in this sense a defining figure for the self-perception of Kim Gordon and her peers as multiple artists.[15]

One subculture that provided an appropriate breeding ground for such developments was New York’s Lower East Side, in whose galleries and clubs — such as CBGB’s — artists and musicians came together and initiated numerous collaborations. Again, this trend is represented by Sonic Youth, whose musical style is often termed ‘art punk,’ which sums up the band’s synthesis of experimental sounds and punk rock.[16] Since the group was founded, in addition to their own diverse activities, they have worked closely with designers, filmmakers, visual artists, and other musicians, including Mike Kelley, Richard Kern, Raymond Pettibon, and Richard Prince.

While none of these artists were concerned with exchanging one art form for another, purely pragmatic reasons did occasionally prompt such a switch. In the German Democratic Republic, for example, the fact that Cornelia Schleime was prohibited from exhibiting in 1981 caused the artist to join the punk movement and form the band [IMG Zwitschermaschine] before she returned to painting following her move to the Federal Republic of Germany some years later.[17]

Other British art students who followed a musical career included Adam Ant (Adam and the Ants), Viv Albertine (The Slits), Graham Lewis and Rob Gotobed (both of Wire), Lora Logic (X-Ray Spex), Mike Barson (Madness), John Foxx (Ultravox), and Jo Callis (The Human League). Cf. Simon Frith and Howard Horne, Art into Pop (London: Methuen, 1987), 125–126. In the United States, Patti Smith, James Chance, Chris Stein (Blondie), and Alan Vega (Suicide), among others, all studied at art academies. In German-speaking countries, too, there were numerous art-school graduates who turned to music. These include, for example, Albert Oehlen, Markus Oehlen (Mittagspause), Walter Dahn (Die Hornissen), Salomé and Luciano Castelli (Geile Tiere), Christian Ludwig aka Chrislo Haas (Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft [DAF]), Claudia Schifferle (Kleenex; subsequently Liliput), and Franz Pomassl.  
Other British art students who followed a musical career included Adam Ant (Adam and the Ants), Viv Albertine (The Slits), Graham Lewis and Rob Gotobed (both of Wire), Lora Logic (X-Ray Spex), Mike Barson (Madness), John Foxx (Ultravox), and Jo Callis (The Human League). Cf. Simon Frith and Howard Horne, Art into Pop (London: Methuen, 1987), 125–126. In the United States, Patti Smith, James Chance, Chris Stein (Blondie), and Alan Vega (Suicide), among others, all studied at art academies. Roger Waltz, “Ein Interview mit Malcolm McLaren,” ZKM Online (1998),$1165 (accessed August 29, 2009). — Trans. G. M. Notwithstanding his extensive pursuits in cultural activism, McLaren never entirely abandoned his own artistic ambitions. After the Sex Pistols was disbanded, he re-emerged as the producer of Adam Ant, Bow Wow Wow, and Boy George, but from 1980 onward also released numerous singles and albums himself, in which he tried his hand at hip-hop, opera, and waltz music, for example. In September 2000, ZKM in Karlsruhe presented McLaren’s solo exhibition Casino of Authenticity and Karaoke, while his most recent video work, Shallow 1-21, was shown in 2008 in a Berlin gallery.  
Mike Kelley produced the artwork for Sonic Youth’s album Dirty in 1992. The artist himself was a member of the band Destroy all Monsters. Early U.S. punk served as a constant source of inspiration for his artistic production. Richard Kern directed the video Death Valley 69 in 1985; Richard Prince designed the cover for Sonic Nurse; while Raymond Pettibon designed the cover for Goo.  
The name is probably a reference to Paul Klee’s painting Die Zwitschermaschine (Twitter-Machine; 1922).  

Timelines:1970 – 2000
Workdescriptions from this text