“I never went to an art school. I failed the art courses that I did take in school. I just looked at a lot of things. And that’s how I learnt about art, by looking at it.”
My favorite part of the documentary Basquiat: Rage to Riches is Fab 5 Freddy recalling how he and Basquiat started a “museum club”: every week or so they would cab up to The Met and walk around with sketch pads, pretending to be art students, looking at the paintings.
Here’s a clip of Freddy joking about how they thought Carvaggio was “gangster” for carrying a sword:
He also points out how white artists were inspired by black culture — Pollock listening to jazz while doing his improvisational drawings, Picasso stealing from African masks — and how Basquiat took their influence and reclaimed it back into his work.
It’s a good watch. If you can, though, check out Jean-Michel Basquiat: Radiant Child, which I think dives a little deeper into his influences.
For example, in that documentary you’ll learn that Basquiat loved to have a bunch of books around when he painted. Above are two comparison screenshots, one showing a page from Gray’s Anatomy (his mother gave him a copy as a child after he got hit by a car) and one showing a page of hobo signs from Dreyfuss’s Symbol Sourcebook (a personal favorite of mine). He also had copies of Da Vinci’s Notebooks and Burchard Brentjes’ African Rock Art.