Three Things That 1980s-2000s American & Canadian Punk Music Can Teach (Visual) Artists


Well, I thought that I’d write another “how can music improve our art?” article (like this one and this one) but, this time, I thought that I’d take a look at the very first “cool” genre of music that I ever discovered (and have rediscovered regularly since then). I am, of course, talking about American & Canadian punk music from the 1980s-2000s.

This includes bands like The Offspring, Bad Religion, Sum 41, AFI, T.S.O.L, Green Day and NOFX. Although these bands certainly didn’t invent punk music (I’m pretty sure that the Sex Pistols did that during the 1970s, but I’m probably mistaken), they have a very different attitude towards the genre when compared to more “traditional” punk music.. and they can be surprisingly inspirational.

So, what can 1980s-2000s American & Canadian punk music teach (visual) artists? Although I’ve already covered one thing that The Offspring’s “Americana” album taught me, here are a few more things that the genre can teach us:

1) Genre Blending: One of the cool things about American & Canadian punk bands from the 1980s-2000s is that they often weren’t afraid to look outside of the punk genre for inspiration. And, because of this, the genre contains significantly more variety than “traditional” punk music does.

Sum 41 is a great example of this since, although some of their stuff from the 1990s/early 2000s often has a fairly “light” pop punk sound, they also occasionally took inspiration from the heavy metal genre too (in songs like “Pain For Pleasure” and “Reign In Pain”). Even some of their “ordinary” punk songs from the mid-late 2000s sound a little bit “heavier” than you might expect.

Likewise, a band called AFI originally started out as a fairly “ordinary” punk band but, as time went on, they gradually started to adopt slightly more of a gothic style – whilst still remaining a punk band at the same time. The interesting thing is that, although the gothic rock genre and punk genre share a common history – most of the more “gothic” songs by AFI (during the ’90s and ’00s) have a very unique sound that is different from classic gothic rock and still very recognisable as punk.

So, what does this have to do with art? Well, it can be very easy to end up making just one particular type or genre of art, and there’s nothing wrong with this. But, the only way that your art is going to evolve into something unique and to stand out from the crowd is if you are willing to experiment occasionally and include elements and inspirations from other genres or styles.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited painting that will be posted here in December. Although most of it is in my classic high-contrast style and includes my usual ink drawings, I wanted to try something a bit different. Inspired by a scene in a TV show I’d seen (where the camera focuses on the background and leaves the foreground blurry), I thought that I’d try to use a more impressionistic style in part of the picture:

The full-size painting will appear here on the 13th December.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 13th December.

This experiment certainly wasn’t a complete success, but it is occasional genre-blending experiments like this that can help you to make your art look a bit more distinctive and unique.

2) Substance matters more than style: One of the interesting things about 1980s-2000s punk music from the US and Canada is that it can sometimes be more sophisticated than “traditional” punk music. The classic example of this is probably the band Bad Religion, whose lyrics are significantly more complex than anything you’d traditionally expect from a punk band.

They aren’t afraid to dive into the thesaurus at every possible opportunity and they aren’t afraid to sing about a wide variety of topics and ideas. They don’t even look like what you’d expect a “punk band” to look like. They know more than three chords. Their music is rarely about shock value or rebellion for the sake of rebellion. And, yet, they’re about as punk as you can get!

So, again, what does this have to do with art? Well, it’s a reminder that, whilst attitude and emotion will get you so far, substance matters more than style. It’s all very well to think that you’re some kind of “bohemian” or “rebel” or whatever because you’re an artist, but you still need technical skill if you want to make art that will impress actual people (rather than art critics).

In other words, you need to practice regularly (even when you aren’t feeling “inspired”) and focus more on making interesting art than on being “cool”. Yes, regular art practice might occasionally seem “boring” or like it’s some kind of chore, but it’s what allows you to go from making art that looks like this:

"Cave Sculptures" By C. A. Brown [9th July 2012]

“Cave Sculptures” By C. A. Brown [9th July 2012]

To making slightly better artwork that looks a bit more like this:

"Architecture" By C. A. Brown

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

3) Do what you want: On the surface, punk music and “the mainstream” seem like polar opposites. But, for a while during the 1990s and early 2000s, American and Canadian punk music was mainstream. This is how I first discovered this amazing genre during my childhood. And, surprisingly, “mainstream” punk music wasn’t terrible (well, most of it wasn’t).

Yet, whilst I can be fairly cynical about the mainstream sometimes, punk music was an exception to the rule for the simple reason that it still sounded like punk music. Yes, there was censorship on the radio and some of the music had a slightly “light” sound to it but, at it’s core, it was still punk music. Like with heavy metal bands, punk bands just focused on making the kind of music that they liked making, regardless of whether it was mainstream or not. Compare this to an anodyne designed-by-committee pop band that is manufactured purely to make money and you’ll see what I mean.

Yet again, what does this have to do with making art? Well, it just means that you should make the kind of art that interests you, regardless of whether or not it is “cool” or “avant garde” or whatever. For example, if you really like painting realistic natural landscapes – then paint them! You’ll have a lot more enthusiasm (which will translate into inspiration and creativity) and produce much better artwork than you would if you try to be “avant garde” because you think that this is what an artist “should” do.

Punk music, at it’s core, is about doing your own thing. If this happens to be popular, then do it anyway. If this happens to be unpopular, then do it anyway. If it makes you famous, then this is good. If it doesn’t make you famous, this is also good. Nothing else matters than creating the kind of things that you find fascinating and the things that you thrive at making.

Punk music might have got a lot of radio airplay in the past but, those who weren’t interested in it have probably forgotten about it. And, those who were interested in it still listen to it. It’s a great example of how, if you do your own thing, then you’ll have enthusiastic fans. You might not have hundreds of millions of them, but they’ll be a much better quality of fan than you might get if you try to make things that aren’t really “you” because you think that these things are “popular” or “cool”.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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