Opinion

Personal Mythology of the Artist, Jay-Z vs. J-Beuys

YouTube star and art-world explainer Hennesy Youngman records a rant about artists’ personal mythologies, the tall tales that serve as the background for many art superstars. Besides a lesson in hagiography, this video serves up an awesome comparison of personal mythology-making practices between rapper Jay-Z and rapper shaman artist Joseph Beuys.

After a brief introduction, Youngman gets right down to business with some advice:

If you want to be a famous fuckin’ artist, you really need to start fabricating a personal mythology about yourself, you know what I’m sayin’? People don’t want reality, they want a story, the world wants to be deceived.

Joseph Beuys (image from wikipedia.org)

You want to be a legend? You have to act like a legend. Make some stuff up. Turn yourself into an art world superhero! “You have to live in that mythology, man,” Youngman tells us. Beuys was a total pro. The artists own personal mythology was began when he was fighting far above the Crimea as a German pilot in WWII. His plane was shot down, so we hear, but the artist survived the crash and was found by Tatar tribesmen (“the Russian version of Cherokee Indians”). The Tatars wrapped the injured Beuys in felt and animal fat (phat?) to nurse him back to health. Fat and felt remained touchstones of the artist’s work through Beuys’ career.

It’s doubtful if the story is actually true, but does it really matter? “Nah, it’s not true,” Youngman says, but people thought it was pretty awesome and bought in to Beuys’ shamanistic work more because of it. Just like Jay-Z, whose own street mythology includes an episode in which he was shot at point-blank range multiple times. Miraculously, all of the shots missed, and the rapper went on to become the legend that he is now.

“Jay-Z and Joseph Beuys are two outstanding performers who have been through some similar shit,” we are told. Totally true, and both used their mercurial pasts to their own artistic advantages. This comparison is made even better by matching the impossibility of Joseph Beuys’s performance attempting to explain pictures to a dead rabbit to Jay-Z’s attempt to make a star out of female rapper Amil. Also, there’s a clip of Beuys dancing, singing and swinging a microphone around in a totally 70s boy band at the end of the video. Now that’s seductive myth-making.

 

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