In Brief

Is the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Really Giving Kanye West an Honorary Doctorate? [UPDATED]

Kanye West accepting his honorary degree from the Art Institute of Chicago (rendering by the author for Hyperallergic)
Kanye West accepting his honorary degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (rendering by the author for Hyperallergic)

In a recent interview with the French design blog Clique, noted college dropout Kanye West claimed that he is “getting an honorary doctorate on May 5th from the Art Institute of Chicago.”

A spokesperson for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) — one of the top three art schools in the US, according to US News — would neither confirm nor deny that West will be given an honorary degree from the school, but did note that this spring’s graduation ceremony will take place on May 11, not May 5. The SAIC will announce later this week the honorary doctorate recipients and commencement speaker for the graduation ceremony.

While waiting for SAIC’s announcement and urging West to double-check his calendar, I highly recommend watching the video interview with Clique as it offers a rare, relatively unfiltered and unedited, 30-minute-long window into the rapper’s ideas about life, art, and commerce. It is replete with outlandish metaphors that go on for much, much too long, broad pronouncements on race and class, and leaps in logic and subject matter that help to clarify how he thinks. Hyperallergic watched the whole thing so you wouldn’t have to (even though you should), and extracted some teachable moments from the apparent doctor-to-be’s answers.

Dr. West explains racism using Lolcats:

Racism is a dated concept. It’s like a silly concept that people try to touch on to separate, to alienate, to pinpoint anything. It’s stupid. It’s like a bouncing ball in a room with two cats, when you don’t feel like playing with the cat, so you throw this bouncing ball and let them fight over the bouncing ball, and the bouncing ball has no purpose other than it bounces. That’s racism.

Dr. West on working with the system:

I don’t want to put the system down, or break a big corporation. I’d like to be able to be one with the system, to help more people. You need structure, you need support. I’d like to be able to work with the system to bring more beauty and truth to the world, and inspiration.

Dr. West explains his aspirations:

I don’t have any financial aspirations, any mogul aspirations, I just have people aspirations.

Dr. West on early childhood education:

I want to see, before I pass, five-year-olds being at 10 times the level of a current human five-year-old right now by removing all separatist concepts.

Dr. West on class, wolves, friend and collaborator Vanessa Beecroft, and the pursuit of happiness:

Class is what creates slavery in a way. I gave my daughter these toys, and I was complaining about some of the toys that my daughter had, like these toys don’t have enough quality, soul, life, energy in them. And then Vanessa Beecroft bought her these wolves that were very lifelike and had so much creativity put into the way they were made and when my daughter saw them she started screaming and running around. That was the happiest I’d ever seen her. It was three wolves. That level of joy, it feels like everything we’re doing in life we’re trying to get that moment back, that level of joy. You go through all this — you have a job, a girlfriend, a wife, kids, this, that, that, that, that. And you hop in your BMW and you wanna grab the wheel and feel like you’re gonna feel as happy as that day, but you don’t. And you realize that somehow joy had been stolen from you. Someone grabbed those wolves from you when you were really young and packaged them in all of the needs of society and said don’t open for another 20 years. And when you finally get back to those wolves, it costs so much to open them up. You have to pay all your college loans off, you have to pay all your debts to society, this, this, this, and this, to finally open that wolf package back up again. And it just doesn’t feel like the same amount of joy that my daughter had at that point.

Dr. West on award shows:

I think there should be award shows for the Nobel Peace Prize, but I guess they just don’t sell enough ad time, they don’t sell as much ad time as pop stars, it’s as simple as that.

Dr. West on the stigma against pop culture:

I think the thought was that everything popular was very basic, and not complex. And, you know, the negative connotation of commercial. So as soon as you’re commercial you don’t have the complexity of a Bach, a Mozart, or a Basquiat. And if you say out loud as a commercial person that you are in the same breath as Basquiat then everyone looks at you like you’re an egomaniac or something. But then you say, wait a second, you know I was a gifted artist since age five, and like on national competitions and went to art school — I’m actually getting an honorary doctorate on May 5th from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Dr. West on education and proportions:

Education is the power. I think that in schools you know beauty needs to be understood. Of course we can learn about Picasso, but we also need to learn about proportions. Proportion is the luxury. Everything is inside of proportions. Proportions are so important that in ancient times they would hide the information of proportions and now it’s happening again.

Dr. West on straddling disciplines:

I don’t care about what anyone in fashion has to say about what I want to do. I’m here in fashion to learn sensibility. I want to create something comparable to what Walt Disney did, but then mix it with what Henry Ford did, mix it with what Howard Hughes did, mix it with what [former National Basketball Association commissioner] David Stern did. The way I’m talking about these industries and these cultural revolutions and innovations and the way that Steve [Jobs] put all that into a phone, it’s possible.

Dr. West on the difficulty of shopping in luxury stores:

Every one of these shopping experiences are so different. And especially when I was young I was really scared to walk into luxury stores, it’s very non-inviting. And it’s very expensive, and like fuck if you’re not knowledgeable you can make a very expensive mistake. It’s bordering on like getting a prostitute pregnant or something like that, an expensive mistake like that.

Update, 3/18: The SAIC confirmed today that Kanye West, along with gallerist Rhona Hoffman, artist Janet Neiman, Art Institute of Chicago (the school’s namesake museum) director and president Douglas Druick, and German artist Albert Oehlen, will receive all receive honorary doctorates at the school’s May 11 commencement ceremony. Oehlen will be the commencement speaker.

In its announcement, the SAIC called West

a leader in the music industry as a Grammy Award-winning recording artist and producer, as well as a fashion designer and interdisciplinary artist whose work provokes cultural discourse by reflecting a realism of the street. He is an advocate for education, and a thinker and maker who often uses his work — his lyrics, videos, performances, and fashion designs — to deconstruct stereotypes and spur cultural discourse on important social issues. West’s work, like much of hip-hop, is meant to startle us out of our complacency, and this is the role of art.

Watch the whole Clique interview below:

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