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The Beauty of Kaws: In Praise of Pop Art

Does everyone have to be socially conscious? That’s honestly what I used to believe at one point. As a teenager I considered myself somewhat of an activist, I was basically Huey Freeman with the Afro and everything blasting To Pimp A Butterfly and explaining the origins of the term picnic to anyone that had ears.

I thought the only reason everyone wasn’t constantly discussing social issues was because the media was trying to distract us. A main part of why I became an artist, started this platform and started working in media is because I felt as though the media suppressed the perspectives of the oppressed and I wanted to show the other side of injustices.

I'm from the social media generation of social Justice warriors, and when you wanna spread awareness you run the risk of becoming apathetic due to too much exposure. We were all radicalized with mass shootings, police brutality, and all these new phenomena as teenagers, they were being caught on tape and spread through social media for the first time and part of doing your job as a productive citizen is sharing the footage and raising awareness.

2020 was when my entire perspective on social awareness and activism changed. There is constant turmoil everywhere if you choose to pay attention to it, in 2020 everyone was locked inside watching the news that was constantly broadcasting exactly how many people were dying from Covid everyday, it was as if nothing else existed, which is strange in hindsight cause we don’t do that for any other disease, or car accidents or anything.

Then the George Floyd murder happened and that was the only focus, to the point where everyone on Earth rioted, as though no other conflicts existed. Everyone posted black screens on their instagrams and everything.

I didn’t want to become apathetic, but as the days continued and we were bombarded my mental health couldn’t handle unactionable awareness. I fell somewhere between apathy and despair. That made me think about every conflict that goes unaddressed when the media focuses on something specific.

I also still have to live my life everyday. The cost of living is high, people have a billion problems, I’m a young black male with freeform dreads to my shoulders so I live with those implications everyday, I take the train with crackheads tweaking and screaming every single day, my family and friends go through things, I’m dealing with all of that, I’m an immigrant so my own nation of origin is in a civil war, the nation I’m a citizen of isn’t doing much better, the Palestinian people are being oppressed, Ukraine and Russia is going on. Am I allowed to just make cool stuff and look at cool stuff?

Does everything I make have to relate to whatever big altercation is happening in my life or the world? I fundamentally believe in the freedom of all oppressed peoples on this Earth, including myself, but personally I still gotta keep it pushing and sometimes I need a break and just wanna look at cool colors.

That’s why I’ve fallen more and more in love with pop art as I get older. Yesterday before I went to a pro wrestling match, I was at the Kaws exhibit at the ago.

Kaws is a very famous pop artist who samples The Simpsons, cereal boxes, Elmo, vintage ads, he makes trophies for award shows, and photographs, he incorporates his own visual language in these beautiful artifacts from paintings to couches to statues. He uses pop culture references with his unique perspective and character to build these worlds.

The coloring, the composition, the layering, the harmony, the balance, the references, it was utterly beautiful, but there was no deeper message most of the time, there was no socially conscious messaging, it was art for arts sake, they were just beautiful and peculiar pieces of pop culture.

There was this couch made of sesame street characters that was extremely colourful it had Cookie Monster, elmo, Bert and Ernie, and all these colorful characters, and I looked at it and I was about to call it lame, until I saw a 3 year old run away from his parents in order to get a closer look at it.

The kid couldn’t believe his eyes, he audibly said " woah" it was the most amazing thing he ever saw, there were so many fluffy colors of his favourite characters floating in the air, once I got rid of my 24 year old jadedness I realized that was one of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve ever seen in my life.

It’s a couch so it’s useful, and beautiful, and silly, and evokes nostalgia within multiple generations, but it was just incredible and beautiful simply from an aesthetic perspective, like a peacock or a butterfly, a sunset, a rainbow, a bird or a forest, it was just perfect.

And there’s something to that, there’s something to making something accessible to the most amount of people. In a world where celebrities are bought by political parties and everyone is selling an agenda, there's something about beauty for the sake of beauty. When something is beautiful it glows, it attracts everyone's eyes to it and it makes life better for everyone.

Pop isn’t given its respect in many cultures because pop has been historically viewed as "selling out" but the greatest art is fundamentally true and that’s why it appeals to the most amount of people. Three little birds by Bob Marley is a pop song.

Pop art doesn't try to be controversial, it doesn't try to divide, it doesn't separate, it only seeks to unite.

When something is beautiful it elevates the human experience, paying attention to injustice can be important but focusing on beauty is a reminder of why life is worthwhile and worth protecting. Beautiful colors, sounds, harmonies, meals, buildings, films, poems, nature, space, the cosmos, beauty is what makes life worthwhile.

Now I’m tryna talk to people about the new Drake album, and put out beat tapes, and everyone’s looking at me like I’m crazy, but sometimes I don’t have the energy for the whole world, and the whole world really does take my energy because I care about people, and Kaws reminds me that every once in a while it's okay to be like that 3 year old, present and wholeheartedly focused on beauty.


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