Ye, the artist, entrepreneur and designer formerly known as Kanye West has been in a spiritual war for the soul of the United States of America, while also on a deeply personal quest to not so much to find his artistic voice over the decades but to amplify it. Kim Kardashian, entrepreneur and model for the most recent Dolce & Gabbana campaign, was in a long and intrinsic relationship with the aforementioned Ye. Similarities and differences are easy to derive, what fascinates me more deeply is what led to their union and what will come of their separation. The artist’s integrity is at odds with the sexualization of media, a campaign for presidency or not, the war for the soul of a nation is ongoing in Ye.
Sex sells, this as surely as death and taxes we know to be true, what are the unexplored or lesser preferred sales tactics and are they any more morally just? Buy one get one free, half price, no interest for the first six months? These just don’t have the same explicit allure that sex does, money in and of itself has no sex appeal, addition and subtraction and decimal points offer something familiar but altogether artificial and less natural than sexuality. Dozens of times throughout my adolescence and even into my early adulthood, women maintained a certain ire veiled in respect for the duality of her work and body image. This passive disdain originated from the thinking that images were heavily doctored or her body itself was altered to promote a heightened and almost caricature image of what society considers beautiful. As men would lust after her and gaze on her works, the despair of women grew and the idea of natural beauty became a more divisive topic.
The inherent flaw of attaining material or superficial satisfaction through acquiring more stuff became more prevalent over the past handful of decades. The vastness of the internet had people from all walks of life seeking out more stuff, idolizing those who attained the lauded branded consignment to be in a position of having enough beauty to market a product through sexualization of their image. This idea permeated the zeitgeist and grossly manifested into a culture of social media influencers which in turn coined the term ‘personal brand,’ a disgusting phrase which revolved around the idea of both having beauty and being able to sell stuff. There have been peaks and troughs in the notion of what makes up a personal brand, for influencers like Emma Chamberlain her following praised her implied realness for burping or discussing her period in her YouTube videos. The leaning toward a more authentic image would be worthy of praise, were it not to sell more stuff and ultimately arrive at the same tired goal of material attainment to birth a sense of happiness.
Ye, born Kanye Omari West in the southside of Chicago to mother and educator Donda West, can be praised for following his passion and maintaining his views despite a year on year onslaught of adversity. This passion fueled the creation of multiple works of art, collaborations with renowned artists and brands like George Condo, Louis Vuitton, Sir Paul McCartney, Vanessa Beecroft, Caroline Shaw, Sir Elton John, the director Steve McQueen, Takashi Murakami, Arthur Jafar and many more. Pulitzer Prize winning art critic Jerry Saltz once said of Ye, “West is part of some total merging of art with everything around it of art going viral–of more people wanting a bit of it in their lives. Regardless of their reasons.” There is a beauty and an honesty about artistic expression, there is integrity which comes from the nakedness of one’s own inner truth surfacing for air. Love exists as the operative lungs of all art, providing said air, the unification of Ye and Kim saw the fusion and subsequent friction of an artist’s integrity with an advertiser’s appeal.
Kim Kardashian is a savvy business person and has taken strides in her brand, Skims, to dilute the very beauty standards she herself began down to some modicum of normalcy. The use of disabled or plus sized models in Skims marketing speaks to a desperate social need for brands to remove their rose tinted glasses and steer away from the idyllic hourglass bodies of sex gods swanning around in the upper echelon of the tallest ivory tower in the highest castle, and value people for who they are and however they appear. If these brands displayed a social conscience without their incessant greed for more money it would be refreshing, if they put their focus on forming a more inclusive world with their profits and more inclusive campaign to make greater profits, we might see something of a renaissance utopia where brands truly have the social conscience they claim to.
Art has a way of accepting imperfections and attaching beauty to them that advertising has never had. Life is the food, art is the spice, music is water, entertainment is sugar, and advertising creates indigestion. This is, of course, not the intention of any marketing team, they try ever more desperately to create an appetite where there is none. So how do these brands sell something people don’t need? Sexual attraction is a familiar and natural occurrence where overconsumption and retail therapy are not. As the saying goes “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” and so they put a whole lot of sexualized imagery around, on top of, underneath, and inside the product until the product is something of a dopamine rush to potential buyers.