“[Abstract art] should be enjoyed just as music is enjoyed — after a while you may like it or you may not.” —Jackson Pollock
Music video and abstract art were destined to be a couple, merrily skipping hand-in-hand from one glowing tableau to the next. And like some couples, they can be annoying in their committed indifference to the rest of us in the room, refusing to adapt to even minimal standards of decorum.
After speaking to a number of learned people on the subject of abstraction, the consensus seems to be that it’s an art form designed to give shape to the ineffable or unconscious, to cast aside old definitions in favor of unfiltered emotional and personal modes of expression.
We have here three recent arrivals that inspired a few abstract chats around the water cooler at Club TikiKiti. Let’s sample a flight of visions from our video pen pals, shall we?
From the mysterious Ilteen comes a foreboding collage accompanying “Run” by Awolnation. The creek-of-consciousness imagery fits the gloomy groove like a groovy glove, a paranoid paen to the times we live in, where uncertainty is part of our survival kit.
It works as an unwelcome meditation on the mounting number of threats facing ordinary folks, piped directly into our skulls by a host of satellite sources that clearly don’t respect our boundaries.
Finally push comes to shove, and we all must flee through a frozen forest, pursued by … zombies, government goons, the plague, armed rednecks, take your pick, doesn’t matter. As a postscript, Ilteen thoughtfully includes a phone message from a flaky friend that reminds us not to neglect our loved ones – because we won’t see them again after we’re all annihilated.
This is art as a reflex action and catalyst that attempts to create patterns within (real or imagined) impending chaos. It resonates because a whole bunch of us are transmitting the same fear and flight impulses.
Baylee V goes with a smaller canvas in her Unofficial Music Video for Welsh rock band Catfish & The Bottlemen’s “Tyrants,” creating a twilight moebius strip from childhood’s end.
By framing amusement park memories with a song about some sort of loss-of-innocence epiphany, Baylee’s video feels firmly rooted in a past of universal pictures, hence the pleasantly mundane patina. Did this happen to me? Or did I see it in a movie?
Yes, this is definitely gentle abstraction when compared to Ilteen’s looming apocalypse in the previous scene, yet the connection is just as strong. Fear is a powerful emotion, but it is also exhausting, wearing us down as quickly chopping wood. Loss, regret, and yearning for simpler days represent smaller, less insistent impulses, but they still keep you awake at night.
Ah, good old Nirvana. Did you know Kurt Cobain’s high school art teacher was an abstract painter? Kurt’s art, mostly line drawings, are on display at the Experience Music Project in Seattle.
A random dive into the Nirvana lyric pond reveals phrases like “aqua seafoam shame” from “All Apologies.” Bass player Krist Novoselic discussed his late bandmate’s fondness for collage during the making of the In Utero album in a Rolling Stone interview.
“That was the aesthetic, like the beautiful orchids, and then there’s this raw meat around them… ‘Dumb’ is a beautiful song. ‘All Apologies’ is really nice. And then there are songs like ‘Milk It’ that are completely wicked!”
As conceived by British collective Guido Productions, Nirvana’s “Milk It” comes to life as literal abstract translation, with a Speedo clad protagonist weathering a dairy drenching.
The deluge suggests ritual humiliation or submission to some horrible inevitability that could cause madness and self-destruction.
Cobain’s suicide note included the observation, “The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage.”
Seemingly, his horror at the idea of “milking it,” the artificial summoning of rock-star emotional empathy for the sake of his fans, was something he could identify in the abstract, but couldn’t cope with in the waking world. Ask not for whom the time clock ticks.