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Kanye West 'Famous' music video: Painter who inspired it lambastes Lena Dunham's critique: 'Making art amenable to a certain political class or agenda would be a disaster'

She claimed that the video 'feels informed and inspired by the aspects of our culture that make women feel unsafe even in their own beds, in their own bodies'

Christopher Hooton
Thursday 30 June 2016 09:51
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A still from the Kanye video
A still from the Kanye video

As you’re probably aware by now, Kanye West’s music video for ‘Famous’ was heavily influenced by Vincent Desiderio’s painting ‘Sleep’, which also consisted of a tableau of naked sleeping bodies.

The artist only found out about it on the morning of the video’s premiere, when the 60-year-old was beckoned to LA by Kanye’s people.

It’s quite a sweet story (“I couldn’t hear properly when my gallery called, and when they said ‘Kanye West,’ I thought they said ‘Condé Nast’”), and Desiderio said of his meeting with the rapper: “It was almost as if they were throwing a small surprise party for me”.

Despite coming from two very different artistic traditions, Desiderio and West hit it off, the former telling The New York Times that talking to the latter “was like speaking to any of my peers in the art world — actually, more like talking to the brightest art students that have their eyes wide open.”

Desiderio didn’t give legal permission for Kanye to refer to the painting but doesn’t think it has anything to do with copyright as “a work of art goes out there, and there’s a stream that activates and widens the communal imagination. It was an honor that I was being quoted.”

A section of Vincent Desiderio's 'Sleep' painting

As for payment, he said: “It wasn’t offered, but I wouldn’t have taken it. That would’ve cheapened the whole thing.”

The painter said he was left “almost in tears” by the video, and was quick to shoot down criticisms of it.

Asked about Lena Dunham saying that it “feels informed and inspired by the aspects of our culture that make women feel unsafe even in their own beds, in their own bodies”, he offered the following response:

“Artists are not saints. They’re not people whose first obligation is moral correctness.

As much as I like Dunham and appreciate her, art goes to dangerous places. And this is not to sound like Donald Trump, whom I loathe, but if you want to make it amenable to a certain political class or agenda, what a disaster that would be. It’s like saying, ‘Hitchcock, that guy must’ve really loved killing women.’ Or Dostoyevsky — ‘I don’t like that guy very much.’ It’s horrible to look at, horrible to hear, but there’s also the kernel of salvation. That tension between those two things is where art functions.”

You can watch the video on Tidal's website.

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