Who Is a Better Artist: Kanye West or Graydon Carter?
The editor and rapper are both getting into sketching.
On the left, Graydon Carter’s sketches. On the right, one of Kanye West’s.
This week, two powerful men proved once again that the pen is mightier than the sword by taking a writing utensil and releasing its illustrative capabilities. Graydon Carter published a series of cartoons of fake Trump administration officials in Esquire, while Kanye West has returned to Instagram with a new focus on sketching potential music and business world collaborators.
Both of these men are not artists by trade, though they are artistic in spirit: Carter is the former Vanity Fair editor who spent his summer vacay in the South of France, convalescing like the Fitzgeraldian hero stereotype he never fails to live up to, while West is a rapper and designer of one of the greatest lines of sneakers of all time. (Both also have incredibly confusing relationships with Donald Trump.)
So we have to ask: who is the better artist? I identified some highly scientific criteria—I googled “what is good art”—and found the answers, below.
Which sketches are a “true likeness”?
Having read several early 19th-century novels in which people are so bored that they paint for fun, I know that it’s important that a portrait by a casual artist be a “true likeness.” West’s sketches are loose, with a more frenetic line style than Carter’s, which have caricature details that make the figures more identifiable, like big chins and untamed eyebrows and ruddy complexions. The catch: Carter’s figures are all imagined, meaning he’s mocking people who don’t even exist. Talking about low-hanging fruit! On the other hand, I haven’t met 6ix9ine personally (thank God), but his pouty, rainbow-colored mouth is one of his defining features, and it’s missing on West’s drawing.
This is a tie.
Whose sketches are more of a revolution that makes people feel good? In a 1997 article—a year when Mel Gibson was on the cover of Vanity Fair with the headline, “MEL ON WHEELS” and the year that Kanye West made his legendary beat tape—the New York Times questioned a number of artists and art historians on what makes art and what makes it good. “I’ve always said art is a revolution that makes people feel good,” said Richard Prince.
Carter’s attacks on Trump always make me feel good—but is this one truly a revolution? Carter may want this government out of power, but he seems less eager for a new social order and more excited about restoring the one in existence when Richard Prince spoke to the Times. (After all, 1997 was also the year Vanity Fair put Goldie Hawn in a goldfish bowl with the headline, “GOLDIE’S BIG SPLASH.”) Given West’s nature, he probably wants to change everything about the art establishment. He’s been tweeting up a storm about Kerry James Marshall; now that he’s changed rap and fashion, maybe the art world is next?
One point to Kanye.
Whose sketches best capture the tragic and sublime simultaneously?
Apparently dissatisfied with the Times’ attempt to define good art, ArtNews posed the question again in 2000. Then-director of the Andy Warhol Museum Thomas Sokolowski said that, in ArtNews’s paraphrasing, what made a great Warhol great “is the way it can capture the tragic and sublime simultaneously, as in the Marilyn Monroe portraits.”
Whose sketches do this best? There is a sublime element to the celebrity cache of West’s portraits—particularly the one he posted today, which features a sketch of a friend at an art fair as well as a to-do list that includes Marina Abramovic’s name and “crystal shoes.” (A dynamic composition.) But it lacks tragedy, and that’s perhaps for the best—there’s an optimism in their simple casualness. Carter’s, as a lampoon of the Trump administration, are heavy-handed on the tragedy. The ultimate sad clown portrait.
One point for Graydon.
How to settle this illustrious battle of illustrations? Should Kanye make a magazine? Should Carter release a rap album? (Probably yes; definitely not.) Perhaps they can collaborate. As Pablo Picasso once said, according to a mug I bought in a gift shop, “Everything you imagine is real.”