The Beatles and Visual Art

Imagine: If John Lennon was still alive, then today would be his 70th birthday. As a tribute to one of the greatest musicians of all time, I thought I would post a rare self-portrait of Lennon (shown left). This portrait (which is listed here by Cooper Owen) was created by Lennon in 1958 for a school assignment. I really like it, mostly because I think the visual style mimics a lot of John’s future interests in music: distortion, strong contrasts, and asymmetrical compositions.

I love when musicians dabble in the visual arts. Being married to both a musician and an artist, I understand that creative minds sometimes need multiple types of outlets for their creativity. Paul McCartney (who is my favorite Beatle – I’ve seen him perform twice!), is also an artist. You can see several of his paintings on this site (which includes information from a catalog of McCartney’s 1999 exhibition in Germany). I really like Paul’s style as well. One of my favorite paintings by him is Yellow Linda with Piano (1988, shown below).

Ringo Starr also has hopped onto the artistic bandwagon, although I think that his art is absolutely ridiculous. Sorry, Ringo, but it looks like you’re just playing around with the “Paint” application. (Which I don’t think is very far from the truth – Ringo mentions that he began to make computer art when he was on tour in the late 1990s.) Anyhow, you can see some of Ringo’s art on his official art website and form your own opinion.

As for George Harrison, it doesn’t seem like he took much interest in the visual arts. But hey, George can make the decorative arts rock out like no one else can (as we can see in his totally awesome music video “I Got My Mind Set on You”), so hey, that definitely counts for something.

Do you know of other pop musicians who create visual art?

  • H Niyazi says:

    Hi M! I think Ringo needs to buy a graphics tablet for starters…

    He's rich enough to afford a copy of Corel Painter/Photoshop and some lessons!!

    The Sargeant Peppers cover is probably the most interesting piece of Beatles Art Work for me. It's like looking at The Procession of The Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli, all these real life movers and shakers immortalised forever.


  • Zillah says:

    that music video always makes me think of monsterpiece theatre. 🙂

  • e says:

    Yikes. You're right. Ringo is not a very good artist. But, I suppose, it brings him satisfaction which is good … or it just feeds his ego, hrmmmm.

    I'm sure I've asked you about this before, but what do you think of Yoko Ono as an artist?
    I, for the most part, think her "art" is pretty much the opposite of art.

    I always think of her wish tree she has in the sculpture garden on the National Mall as an example. Is it a totally cool concept? Absolutely. Does it have any real artistic merit? Ummmm …

  • heidenkind says:

    LOL Ringo's "art" is pretty funny….

    Joni Mitchell is a painter, too. Most of the covers of her CDs have been paintings by her.

  • M says:

    I figured that people would agree with me on the Ringo ridiculousness!

    I like the Sargent Pepper's cover too, H Niyazi. The album cover was designed by Peter Blake. It's always fun to look at that cover; I like to notice which individuals the Beatles wanted to honor by including them on the album cover.

    Zillah, you are spot on. 🙂

    e, I actually like Yoko Ono as a conceptual artist. Her work isn't always aesthetically interesting, but I like her ideas (and for me, the idea of a work of art can evoke an emotional response just as powerful (or more powerful) than something visually interesting/beautiful/appealing). I see what you are saying about artistic merit, though. She definitely isn't known for great artistic technique (in the sense of tangibly forming and creating artistic pieces), but in the concepts that she wants to express. The Seattle Art Museum had a really interesting piece of hers a few months ago, where visitors were invited to hammer a nail into a board hanging on the gallery wall. The work had interesting messages about the participation of the viewer in art and the "anti-traditional art" that was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. It was interesting to see, though, how museum visitors began to morph the hammering piece into something that Ono didn't intend; visitors began to stick bits of paper onto the nails. (You can look here to see how the work looked by the end of the show.) J heard from the museum staff that Yoko and her staff were "having a good laugh about it," and seemed to enjoy the creativity of the Seattleites.

    heidenkind, I didn't know about Joni Mitchell (but then my husband just pointed out that we own a "Crosby, Stills, and Nash" album that is created by her). Pretty fun stuff.

  • Rebekah says:

    I think Joni M is the most interesting of the crossover artist/musicians because she claims to have calculated that she'd get her art out there more by selling albums and that she thought of herself as a painter "derailed" by success as a musical hobbyist. Funny how she at times seems resentful of a career most people would stab themselves in the eye to have…

  • Nik "the BoyWonder" says:

    I love you blog! Just thought I would tell you that I read it all the time…and get inspiration and info! I highly respect your opinion! Great Work!

  • M says:

    Wow, very interesting, Rebekah! Thanks for that link. I thought the first quote on the website ("I'm a painter first, and a musician second") was especially interesting. I'll have to look (and listen) to Joni Mitchell in a different way from hereon out.

    Nik, thanks for your comment! That made my day. It's nice to know that an old friend is reading the stuff I write.

  • e says:

    M: Thanks for your reply. I've been thinking about it a lot actually. Is it strange I've never really considered the art and beauty behind intent? Your thoughts on that really have caused me to think of it from another point of view and certainly shift my opinion.

    When I think about the wish tree, I totally understand what you mean. The intent is actually quite lovely.

    Thank you for the link to the nail and hammer exhibit she did. That is fascinating to see how people will choose the direction of a piece of art. It'd be incredibly cool to see what other regions of the country would do with that. I'll bet it would be dramatically different based on the location and culture.

  • obridge says:

    I immediately thought of Stuart Sutcliffe. See:
    There's a decent film, Backbeat, which touches on Sutcliffe's art and his time with the Beatles.

  • M says:

    Of course! Sutcliffe! I should have thought of him. Good call, obridge.

  • M says:

    Check out this great photo of Paul with Willem de Kooning:

    I don't think it's surprising that Paul posed with de Kooning. Paul was obviously influenced by Abstract Expressionism in his work (as indicated by the painting on the cover of Paul's catalog:

    Fun stuff!

  • M says:

    Just learned that Bob Dylan is a painter too! My friend just saw an exhibition of his paintings (see her post here). I wish I could see this show – it revolves around Dylan's paintings of Brazil.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.