Saturday, August 23, 2008

Artists Only: Songs About Painters



About a week or so ago, I tried putting together a playlist of songs about painters. It took some doing. From my own files, I only had about three, and it took a lot of Googling to come up with more.

I kept having to tweak my searches, as "songs about artists" and "songs about painters" was too broad, and the songs themselves tended not to have the kind of specificity I wanted. I didn't want "Paint It Black" or "A Case of You" or "Picture Book" -- those are about something else.

I wanted songs where art or the making of art or the viewing of art really played a strong role -- songs that in some way or another had the smell of oils, the stink of frustration, or the bliss of inspiration about them.

Ultimately I did get some great recommendations from friends, and I stumbled onto some useful lists here, here and here.

In some cases, I just started typing in "song about Mark Rothko" or "song about de Kooning." Those actually worked out, beautifully. No such luck with Arshile Gorky, Bosch, Breughel, or any number of others. I'm sure people have written songs about them. I just don't know what they are.

Also, I discovered a great song by Jonathan Richman about van Gogh that kept me from having to use Don McLean's treacly "Vincent."

Anyway, here's what I came up with, and I rather like it. There isn't a bad song on it.

1. Artists Only, Talking Heads
2. When I Dream of Michelangelo, Counting Crows
3. Vincent Van Gogh, Jonathan Richman
4. The Art Teacher, Rufus Wainwright
5. The Painter, Neil Young
6. Pablo Picasso, The Modern Lovers
7. Hopper Painting, Janis Ian
8. (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures, The Rezillos
9. Painting by Chagall, The Weepies
10. Art School, The Jam
11. When I Was a Painter, The Breeders
12. Max Ernst, Mission of Burma
13. Escher, Teenage Fanclub
14. Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War, Paul Simon
15. Mark Rothko Song, Dar Williams
16. Interiors (Song for Willem de Kooning), Manic Street Preachers
17. In the Gallery, Dire Straits
18. Art Star, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
19. Andy Warhol, David Bowie
20. Art Class (Song for Yayoi Kusama), Superchunk
21. When I Paint My Masterpiece, Bob Dylan

19 comments:

voice said...

That's amazing! How'd you come up with that? I only recognized three or four of the titles.

Anonymous said...

Have you thought about 'Picasso's Last Words (Drink to me)' Paul McCartney?

Anonymous said...

How about Kate Bush, "An Architect's Dream" or "Abstract Art" by Jenica Rayne or "Spinning Away" by John Cale & Brian Eno (a reference to "the night sky at Arles", possibly Van Gogh's "Starry Night")?

RW said...

Very good -- I will definitely look into these for Vol. II!

greenlantern said...

I wasn't aware of a lot of your selections. But here are some more: 'Run Paint Run Run' Captain Beefheart; 'James Ensor' They Might Be Giants; 'Portrait of my Love' Tokens; 'Statue of a Fool' (don't know the artist); 'Frank Lloyd Wright' Simon & Garfunkel.

Anonymous said...

How about Georgia O. by The Neilds
Paul Cezanne by The Five Chinese Brothers.

Anonymous said...

Starry, Starry Night
by Don McLean
About Vincent Van Gogh

Anonymous said...

John Cale has a song called 'Magritte' about the painter, too.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan Richman is a good source -apart from Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh he also has No one was like Vermeer and Salvador Dali.

Sydney band the Clouds did Hieronymous on their Penny Century album about being freaked out by Bosch. Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls did So Blue on the Gossip album about being entranced by Cezanne's Lac d'Annecy at the Australian National Gallery.

There must be many more songs that mention artists themselves rather than just art or painting etc. What about Pictures of Matchstick Men by Status Quo about Lancashire artist LS Lowry? Dave

RW said...

Dave -- On the windshield visor of my car is a CD holder, which besides making me look extremely cool also serves as a pantheon for CDs that I have to keep with me at all times, not unlike the Presidential suitcase holding the nuclear codes. The four Nuggets CDs are there, and there are morning when I simply have to hear "Pictures of Matchstick Men," which has one of the most dazzling, entrancing, hypnotic intros in rock history, one of those that just kind of bathes my brain in happy drugs. I have never entertained any idea whatsoever as to what the song is about, let alone who. You have just provided me with another excellent reason to hear it, with my brain this time as well as my senses.

Armitaj said...

A bit late, but there's "The Night Watch" from King Crimson, about the Rembrandt painting:

Shine, shine
The light of good works shine
The watch before the city gates Depicted in their prime

That golden light all grimy now
Three hundred years have passed
The worthy Captain and his squad of troopers standing fast

The artist knew their faces well
The husbands of his lady friends
His creditors and councillors
In armour bright, the merchant men

Official moment of the guild
In poses keen from bygone days
City fathers frozen there
Upon the canvas dark with age

As Lovers Go... said...

Funny, i ran into your blog because I too was searching for "songs about artist" "songs about painters" ...well here's one of my favorites!

Painters, Jewel

Anonymous said...

is there any song about Raphael?

Anonymous said...

great list- working on my own list as we speak-had a lot of these and i have been spreading the net a bit wider -ie Rock n roll nigger by Patti Smith[ surely an artists dream creation] with its words about Pollack with the manic energy of punky rock n roll??? and old skool hip hop classic Beat bop produced by Jean Micheal Basquiat plus he did the artwork....peace out

Anonymous said...

So,gs for Drella - J Cale & L Reed!

Anonymous said...

and Soap Bubble Box from the Nits about Joseph Corneil

jo said...

Made a playlist of just these songs. Thanks for doing all the research and thanks to all the people who keep updating.

Rodney Welch said...

Cool, Jo, hope you like it!

Tod Ballinger said...

"When I Go Out with Artists" by Crash Test Dummies.