Well, for today, I thought that I’d ramble about the role that musical subcultures can play in being an artist. This was mainly prompted by some interesting news stories that I read earlier this year about the reactions to the plans for an official celebration of punk music in London this year.
A lot of people thought that such a celebration “wasn’t punk”, but my initial reaction to it was more along the lines of “Cool! Punk music is finally getting some recognition. Now, where’s the celebration of heavy metal?”
To say that I have a complicated relationship with the punk genre would be an understatement. It was actually the very first “cool” genre of music that I ever discovered when I was a kid in the late 1990s. This was, of course, near the end of the wonderful (but brief) time when American punk music became sort of mainstream. Although this instantly led to me becoming a lifelong fan of The Offspring (and later to discover other great punk bands too), I’ve kind of had a sporadic relationship with the punk genre.
Thanks to discovering the heavy metal genre a couple of years after I first discovered punk, punk music has always been something that I seem to go through phases of listening to and not listening to. It’s still one of my absolute favourite genres, but whenever I’ve met people who are into punk music, I always feel like I’m “not really punk” by comparison. And yet, the punk genre turns up relatively often in my art (albeit mostly in subtle ways, unlike this painting):
I had the same sort of reaction when I finally discovered gothic rock during my very early twenties. Despite the fact that I’ve been interested in the horror genre, to varying extents, for most of my life. Despite the fact that I almost always wear dark clothing. Despite the fact that I was reading H.P. Lovecraft when I was seventeen. Despite the fact that Billy Martin/ Poppy Z. Brite is my favourite author. I still don’t really call myself a “goth”.
Because I was somewhat of a latecomer to gothic rock, I often still don’t really consider myself to be “really a goth”. This is especially true whenever I’ve met people who are actual goths. And, again, quite a lot of my art tends to be slightly gothic. Even when I’m not planning to make gothic art, my art can still have a slight gothic look to it. Like this:
Ironically though, I’ve never had this problem with heavy metal music. As soon as I bought my first Iron Maiden CD, I was a metalhead. Whenever I’ve met people who are into heavy metal, I’ve never really felt like I’m “not really a metalhead”. Whenever I’ve been to metal concerts, I’ve just felt like part of the audience. Metal seems to be a surprisingly open-ended subculture in many ways.
And, yet, when it comes to making art, heavy metal imagery doesn’t really turn up as often as it “should” in the art that I make. In fact, my art often tends to include more punk and gothic imagery than heavy metal imagery. Even though there’s a good chance that I’ll be listening to heavy metal when I make most of my art, it still doesn’t actually turn up in my paintings and drawings as much as punk/ gothic imagery does.
I guess that, in a way, this is because subcultures are about more than just music. I mean, both the punk and goth genres have a surprisingly rich and accessible visual tradition. Gothic artwork is more about the levels of gloominess in a particular picture and the actual content of the picture (eg: settings, clothing styles etc..) – it doesn’t matter whether a picture is realistic or cartoonish, if it contains certain elements, then it’s gothic art.
And, since it looks really cool, most of my art tends to include gothic elements. Even if this is only the fact that my art tends to contain bold contrasts between light and darkness, this is at least partly a gothic thing. It’s also inspired by other things too, but it can still look fairly gothic too. Like in this painting:
Likewise, thanks to the DIY tradition of punk (something I really probably should know more about), punk art is meant to be slightly stylised and unpolished. It’s the eccentric artwork in a “Tank Girl” comic. It’s a cynical political cartoon. It’s a type of art where you can include hilariously grotesque things (eg: zombies etc..). It can be detailed or undetailed. It has to be at least mildly rebellious. Best of all, when combined with science fiction, it turns into the cyberpunk genre – the coolest sci-fi sub-genre of them all.
It’s an absolute joy to make art in this genre, especially when I don’t think that I am. Like in this very 1990s punk-influenced picture of some zombies that I made a while ago.
Or one of my many 1980s/1990s-style cyberpunk paintings:
Heavy metal art, on the other hand, is often highly realistic. It’s a really awesome genre of art, but to make “proper” metal art (that could grace an album cover), you need to be able to paint or draw in an extremely realistic style. I am at least a few years away from being able to do this. Yes, I’ve made heavy metal-themed artwork, but I don’t know if I’d say that any of my art is truly “metal art”.
So, I guess that what I’m trying to say is that there is more to most modern subcultures than just music. When it comes to making art, there are probably a lot of other factors that will influence what kinds of art that you make. Trying to fit yourself into one genre will probably limit the kind of art that you make. So, just make the kinds of art that you think are “cool” and if anything from your favourite musical genres appears in them, then this is a bonus.
At the end of the day, you’re probably going to make the kind of art that you think looks cool. So, just make it and stop worrying about musical subcultures.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂