I’ve never understood visual art. The kind that’s framed up and plastered on a white wall, roped off and surrounded by yards of space you’re not supposed to invade. Each year, one of my “artsy” friends will take me to a museum and try to culture me. But I have never understood the paintings.
The pieces of art I understood were the ones that made me think — such as music and television. Musicians write lyrics that take you back in time, and television calls out the masses within a 5-minute frame. The type of art I understood is exactly what Donald Glover blessed us with this year.
In 2016, Donald Glover made us think. He raised our curiosity and stretched our minds to imagine a moment where the impossible can become possible. Donald Glover translated a story and inspired a new one.
Glover has never cared for conventionalism, instead emphasizing his desire to step away from norms and push the envelope. As a self-proclaimed fan of “weird” things, Glover attempts to create something unique to surprise the spectators, often with a bluntness that pierces people and shakes them from the Top 40 formulas that have brainwashed them.
Both of Glover’s projects this year — his FX hit “Atlanta” and his latest studio album “Awaken, My Love!” — draw out the current political issues regarding racial injustice in a way that serves as a call to arms for everyone — allies and enemies included. The artistic lens Glover uses to depict racial struggles shines a new light on a very old, grave situation.
Glover’s work is blunt, but not explicit. While he has been known to make candid remarks during interviews, his work translates his message more subtly through innovative means. In an interview with The Vulture, Glover expressed his desire to “show white people you don’t know everything about black culture,” which is exactly what he does: He shows and rarely tells. While most television shows with similar goals often overdo it, Glover uses a creative plotline that weaves the culture of Atlanta into the story. By tying together broad themes of family, love and trust that even those outside of Atlanta could relate to, Glover makes the narrative personal and reminds us that his plotlines could actually be someone’s reality.
Glover didn’t necessarily want people laughing at “Atlanta,” claiming in interview that “they’re just clapping and laughing to be on the right side of history.” The social oppression and economic imbalance Glover discusses in “Atlanta” has been a reality for decades. It’s only now that more people are choosing to pay attention, partly because Glover has presented it in a more digestible way. Audience members may be laughing at the show, but they should be aware of the reality on a deeper level.
Through “Atlanta” Glover created a new way to tell an old story, one that was creative enough to shake everyone. There’s nothing predictable about each episode as it goes through Earn’s spontaneous life, taking twists and turns that would never exist in a “typical” 9 to 5 adult’s world. As novices to actually producing television, both Glover and Hiro Murai tackled the task through considerable experimentation, relying heavily on Murai’s past experience of directing music videos. Neither Glover nor Murai knew the “right” way to film the show, they just went with what felt right — a strategy that has carried Gambino throughout his career in both film and music.
Old Gambino fans may have been upset by the lack of bars on Glover’s latest release, “Awaken, My Love!”, but as a project on its own, the album must be appreciated. Inspired by old funkadelic sounds, Gambino wanted to ignite a revolution that an album of this caliber might have in the past. Despite not catering to radio stations or the Grammy’s, Gambino has been able to spark just as much conversation with his experimental album. The idea that “Redbone” could play on the same station as “Starboy” or “Controlla” is outlandish. Gambino created what he wanted and was raw. He didn’t care about working someone else’s agenda or fighting in the same pool as everyone. He pushed the envelope and created a new pool instead.
He wanted to be different and it worked; it got people talking. Whether you understand the album or not, the experimentation and growth behind it is an integral part of his creative body of work.
Donald Glover will likely never produce the same thing twice. Each piece he puts out has been heavily vetted. He cares more about quality than about deadlines, yet he seems to make more of them than many other artists in the game. His growth doesn’t involve mirroring the current climate, a strategy used by other artists. Many musicians make the mistake of looking over their shoulder and copying their peers, claiming innovation when in reality there’s nothing different. Glover may have taken inspiration from the old 70’s sound, but he made it his own. He put his own spin, his own signature on both “Atlanta” and “Awaken, My Love!”
Some artists are lucky to have one big break, but Glover seems to have them with every new piece of artwork. He’s always working on the next success. And if his successes this year wasn’t enough, Glover will be starring as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo Star Wars movie.
Glover’s creations are a product of time and deep thought. The feelings going into it matter more than the reactions it elicits. He does what he wants and says what he thinks. Glover to me creates art that’s too fluid to be stuck in a museum. His work’s meaning strikes each person differently with time. After a calamitous year that’s taken some of our best artists and left us at a political turning point, Donald Glover’s art pieces this year are some of the few gems we can look back on with a smile.