Jean Michel Basquiat’s artwork was created using a consistent technique. Every piece of art he created seemed to be the same. In the majority of the paintings he did, he used the same skeleton-like face to represent human faces. His work is like colorful and detailed graffiti sold for millions. Some say he’s untalented, repetitive, and his work is without message. Others think he is a gifted artist who uses his past to inspire his work.

His art is not worth millions of dollars to some critics. Hilton Kramer claims, “He used his youth and looks, along with his skin tone and abundance of sexual appeal, in order to gain overnight fame, which ultimately proved to be the end of him”. She believes that Basquiat only became famous because he attracted the attention and admiration of Andy Warhol. Warhol was always on the search for new collaborators. Priscilla frank, on the contrary, could not imagine a man more talented, passionate or mercurial than Jean Michel Basquiat. Frank, however, believed Basquiats paintings were more than “scribbles” and “daubs”. Kramer, on the contrary, thought Basquiats artwork was “daubs”.

Basquiats “Untitled Boxer” is a picture of a man in black with broad shoulders. A thin hip. Boxing gloves. Big helmet. White background. Random colored lines. He seems to have been doodling on a sheet of paper, yet the result is spectacular. This painting is so complex that one can spend hours studying it. Although it doesn’t look like the painting is telling a narrative, it’s easy to imagine one. It appears that he often does that with his art.

In his “Ashes” piece, the artist shows a man wearing a prisoner outfit with “101490”, holding an ash barrel, random letters above the mans head, and a ladder that looks like it has random lines. Again, the face looks like that of a dead skeleton. This artwork is difficult to understand. It’s so fascinating that you can look at the various pieces and make your own meaning. Basquiats aim seemed to have been that. Maybe with motivations from his life, Basquiat arranged unrelated parts of his work but left it to the viewer, who was to give the final meaning to the whole.

Jennifer Clement claims that Basquiats painting “Untitled(Boxer)”, resembles his liking for people of all colors and sizes, so long they are intelligent. She said, “They can be girls or boys, fat or thin, beautiful, ugly, they don’t care. I believe it was intelligence that drove the decision. The person in the painting has broad shoulders but a thin waist and skinny arms. This represents the meaninglessness of size. The large helmet that appeared on the top could be seen as a brain representing intelligence. The painting is also a mix of many colors to represent diversity.

Basquiat’s “Untitled(Two Heads) on Gold” depicts what appear to be two sticks figures, again with skeleton-like faces. One figure has a dark backdrop, while the other one has a bright background. They both have what appears to a be a band with long material pieces attached. Clement believes that Basquiat wanted to convey how “made he was for the dark, like an ole”. At night he becomes a magician. The sun and daylight are painful, but the darkness is soothing. He crawls into his shadow in daylight. Clement concluded that Basquiat’s art was telling a story. However, Nadiah Fellah had a different idea. She thought Basquiat had used his “idiosyncratic locks” to signify empowerment because they resembled the crowns which would appear repeatedly in Basquiat’s work. She said, “It served Basquiat’s dual purpose in that it alluded the majestic and monarchly qualities which he attributes to himself”(Fellah). Basquiat is a work of art that both critics admire, but each interprets it differently.

Clement, Fellah and others praised Basquiat and his work. However, some people still thought he “ignorant” about art (Kramer). Kramer did not see a message or value in Basquiat’s work. Kramer believed Basquiat’s paintings were only distinguished by his ability to “apply its primitive signs and symbolism to a painted canvas as opposed to defacing public structures” (Kramer).

Viewers created their own theories when viewing a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. In naming certain of his paintings “Untitled”, he seems to have wanted viewers not to be directed in a particular way when criticizing his work. He wanted viewers’ own messages and thoughts to come up with the final painting.


  • benjaminchambers

    Benjamin Chambers is an educator and blogger who focuses on using technology in the classroom. He has written for sites like The Huffington Post and The EdTech Digest, and has been featured in outlets like Forbes and The New York Times. Chambers' work has helped him to develop a following of educators and students who appreciate his down-to-earth approach to learning technology.