‘Andy, It’s Me’: 10 More Songs Inspired by Artists That You Need to Know

Artists from Hokusai to Kahlo have inspired composers from Debussy to Jay Z.

A still from Jay-Z and Beyoncé's video for "Apeshit."

Artists are often inspired by other artists, and that doesn’t just apply to those working in the visual arts: musicians are known to base their songs and compositions on paintings, cinema, and other musicians’ work. 

In 2016, Artnet published a popular list of 10 Songs Every Art Lover Should Know, featuring voices as varied as Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga, and songs ranging from Nat King Cole’s tribute to Andy Warhol to Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby.” But there are many more songs inspired by visual artists, dating from before 2016 and after. So, by popular demand, here are 10 more musical compositions inspired by artists and their work, in chronological order.


“La Mer,” by Claude Debussy, 1903–05

French composer Claude Debussy devoted what many call his magnum opus to the subject of the sea. The cover of the 1905 first edition of the sheet music paid tribute to the piece’s visual inspiration, Katsushika Hokusai’s fabled print Under the Wave off Kanagawa, often referred to as the “The Great Wave.”

Debussy had spent time in Rome as a student, where he dug through the bins at antique shops looking for Japanese prints. The Asian esthetic, especially that seen the popular print style known as ukiyo-e, was tremendously influential on European and American artists of the time, from Van Gogh to Whistler. Debussy even kept a framed print of Hokusai’s masterpiece on his wall, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


“Pablo Picasso,” by The Modern Lovers, 1972

Quirky singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman fronted the Modern Lovers, who penned a tune based on the known seductive powers of Pablo Picasso, the Cubist master. “He was only five foot three, but girls could not resist his stare,” Richman says. The song’s hilarious chorus asserts, “Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole.” Thanks to his acknowledged womanizing, he’s been called a lot worse, actually. The song has been covered by performers including the Talking Heads and David Bowie.


“Max Ernst,” by Mission of Burma, 1981

German Surrealist Max Ernst inspires a song by post-punk greats Mission of Burma on their 1981 EP Signals, Calls, and Marches, which Pitchfork’s Marc Masters called “probably the best Mission of Burma release ever.” 

The song opens with the assertion that “People did not like that man Max Ernst,” and, perhaps by way of explanation, goes on to name the blasphemous 1926 painting The Blessed Virgin Chastising the Infant Jesus before Three Witnesses: André Breton, Paul Éluard and the Artist (in which Mary spanks the Christ child and the artists seemingly take the place of the three wise men). The song’s last 30 seconds, fittingly, consist of the band just calling out the word “Dada,” referring to the movement of which Ernst was a part.


“René and Georgette Magritte with their Dog After the War,” by Paul Simon, 1983

Paul Simon devoted this sweet song to the Belgian Surrealist René Magritte and his wife Georgette. Known for his masterpiece The Treachery of Images (1929) and his anonymous, bowler-hatted bourgeois men, Magritte has inspired countless dorm room posters as well as this lovely musical portrait.

“There they are, a Belgian surrealist painter, his old lady and their pooch, dancing naked in a hotel room, window-shopping on Christopher Street and getting dolled up to dine with ‘the power elite,’” wrote Don Shewey for Rolling Stone. “It’s a hilarious and magical juxtaposition of images that’s also touching, because Paul Simon obviously identifies with the figure of the grown-up, respectable artist irrevocably smitten with those doo-wop groups, ‘the deep forbidden music’ that originally made him fall in love with rock & roll.”

It’s not available online, but Joan Logue produced a video for the song, featuring Simon as Magritte and his then-wife Carrie Fisher as Georgette, that Electronic Arts Intermix calls “a haunting visual interpretation.” 


“Debaser,” by the Pixies, 1989

“Got me a movie I want you to know, slicin’ up eyeballs I want you to know,” howls Black Francis at the opening of this latter-day punk classic. If you suspected that the lyric referred to Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s surrealist silent short Un Chien Andalou (1929), which opens with the apparent slitting of a woman’s eyeball, all doubt would be dispelled when he goes on to shout, “Don’t know about you, but I am un chien andalusia.”

“I wish Buñuel were still alive,” Francis reportedly told a Spanish interviewer, adding, “He made this film about nothing in particular. The title itself is a nonsense. With my stupid, pseudo-scholar, naive, enthusiast, avant-garde-ish, amateurish way to watch Un chien andalou (twice), I thought: ‘Yeah, I will make a song about it.’ [He sings:] “Un chien andalou”… It sounds too French, so I will sing “un chien andalusia,” it sounds good, no?” Apparently so: 10 million people on YouTube have streamed the video for the song, which peaked at 23 on the UK singles chart.


“Hello It’s Me,” by Lou Reed and John Cale, 1990

Two members of the Velvet Underground, the ultra-influential rock group that started out under the wing of Andy Warhol, perform a tender goodbye to the artist three years after his untimely death. In the emotionally complex song, Reed expresses a longing for Warhol’s presence—“I really miss you, I really miss your mind, I haven’t heard ideas like that for such a long, long time”—and complicated feelings about the changing reception of the father of Pop art—“They really hated you. Now all that’s changed, but I have some resentments that can never be unmade”.

The tune comes from the duo’s 1990 record Songs for Drella, a cycle devoted to the artist and referring to Warhol’s nickname, a combination of Cinderella and Dracula, for his come-from-nowhere story as well as his vampiric personal qualities.


“You Cézanne,” by Greg Percy, 2004

If you believe that songs about artists aren’t just for grown-ups, Greg Percy is your man. He released no fewer than five records in his “Songs in the Key of Art” series, introducing young ones to artists from Monet to Michelangelo, Grandma Moses to Frida Kahlo, as well as concepts like symmetry and color theory. 

One standout is “You Cézanne,” featuring the clever chorus “I Say ‘Cé’ and you say ‘zanne,’” and ingenious rhymes (“Dad wanted him to study law but all he wanted to do was draw, he painted people while they were bathing but the reviews were scathing,” and so on).


“Apeshit,” by the Carters, 2018 

The art world went, well, apeshit when husband-and-wife duo Beyoncé and Jay-Z released this song and video, the single for their album Everything is Love. The video has the Carters in an empty Louvre museum, starting with them defiantly posing in front of the Mona Lisa and the Nike of Samothrace, and panning over masterpieces by artists like David and Géricault as well as the Venus de Milo.

By placing themselves in a setting closely associated with white royalty and privilege, the Carters asserted themselves as modern-day Black regals; they’re also known art collectors, just like the royals who founded the museum. The video has some 278 million views on Beyoncé’s YouTube page. 

Jay-Z has repeatedly compared himself with visual artists, elsewhere saying he’s a modern-day Jean-Michel Basquiat and doing a video for “Picasso Baby” that was inspired by performance artist Marina Abramović’s massive “The Artist Is Present” performance at the Museum of Modern Art.


“Mona Lisa,” by Lil Wayne featuring Kendrick Lamar, 2018

One of the greatest rappers of all time brings his lyrical skills to bear on a dark vision of one of the greatest artworks of all time, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. In this telling, she is a tough customer who conspires to rob men: “Mona Lisa, long hair don’t care, she handle the business and don’t ever tell, she bite the bullet and cough up the shells.” He calls her out for her “fake smile,” and, at the tune’s end, punningly says of a victim of his modern-day Gioconda: “Now he gets the picture.”


“Norman Fucking Rockwell!” by Lana del Rey, 2019

In the title track for her sixth studio album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Del Rey sings a ballad to a “man-child” who’s great at sex but whose poetry is bad and who puts her through more shit than he realizes: “Your head in your hands as you color me blue.” The song “Venice Bitch,” from the same album, also name checks the master of saccharine Americana and links him with sex when she sings, “Paint me happy in blue Norman Rockwell, no hype under our covers.”

Speaking to the BBC, Del Rey said, “Working with [producer] Jack Antonoff, I was in a little bit of a lighter mood because he was so funny. So the title track is called ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ and it’s kind of about this guy who is such a genius artist but he thinks he’s the shit and he knows it and he, like, won’t shut up talking about it.”

The title track was nominated for a Grammy Award for song of the year.

Want to take these songs with you on the go? Check out our Spotify playlist, featuring these 10 plus the 10 from the previous article.

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