Zoe Mercer-Golden, Yale Class of 2013
Making a Cosmiconcept:
The Negotiation of Authority in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Visual Art and Writing
written for Professor Robert Stepto’s course “American Artists and the African-American Book”
This project considered connections between Jean-Michel Basquiat’s early work (as represented in the SAMO Graffiti Notebook housed in the Beinecke collection, JWJ MSS 63). I then turned to the other major Basquiat holdings at Yale in the Yale University Art Gallery–a major painting and an unsigned sketch–and began to think about the connections between them. My reading of critical sources led me to the conclusion that much of Basquiat’s art and writing dealt with his preoccupation with authority, artistic, literary and musical. Focusing on his art work and writing, I composed a paper that explored Basquiat’s relationship to authority, the critical response to Basquiat’s art, and my personal response to Basquiat as someone who loves his art and loves to teach his art to tour audiences.
I traced patterns and genealogies of thought that began early in his career and continued throughout his life. Instead of focusing on Basquiat the rebel or countercultural figure, I wanted to think and write about Basquiat the highly literate and thoughtful commentator on the history and art that came before him. More than anything I wanted to celebrate the freeing effect his work had on later artists and writers, as he gave other figures permission to problematize so much of what came before. The poignancy of reading Basquiat’s scribbles as a young man made me highly conscious of how much we lost when he died at 27. The SAMO notebook (and other works like it) is an essential aspect of his oeuvre, because we have such limited quantities of his work. He has been an influential figure in my thinking and writing about art; I feel privileged that I got to be so close to him–to touch the pages that he drew on–while still a student.