Grimes, FKA Twigs, and Other Pop Stars Are Giving Free Art-History Lessons to Anyone With a Computer

Google's Art Zoom offers zippy videos about Bruegel, Artemisia Gentileschi and more.

Clockwise from top left: Artemisia Gentileschi, Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy; FKA Twigs, by Matthew Stone; Grimes; Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Fall of the Rebel Angel (1562). Courtesy of Google.

“This painting is such a nightmare!” begins Grimes in an episode of the second season of Art Zoom, Google’s series of online art history lessons guided by contemporary musicians. “God, it’s so horrific—wow!”

Grimes is speaking about The Fall of the Rebel Angel, an apocalyptic 1562 painting by Dutch old master Pieter Bruegel the Elder. She goes on to offer a polished guided tour of the Biblical themes of the canvas—”the religious symbolism is obvious here: spirit is stronger than flesh”—interspersed with comments like, “I like this dog with a crown—it’s like the one pleasant thing.” 

The new season, which premiered this week, features a number of notable names, including FKA Twigs, who contemplates personal growth through Artemisia Gentileschi’s Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy; J.Balvin, who muses on Colombian heritage in fellow countryman Fernando Botero’s 20 de Julio; and Ellie Goulding, who muses on “love, peace, and calm” in artworks by Yves Klein, Julie Mehretu, and Cy Twombly

Each musician offers up a combination of historical exegesis and personal associations while Google’s gigapixel-resolution Art Camera zooms in and out of compositional details. Each Art Zoom episode lasts just a few minutes. 

“When making my own album, entitled Magdalene, it was a time of great healing for me,” Twigs reveals. “When I was researching about Mary Magdalene and I was looking at a lot of paintings for her, she seemed so poised and so together.”

She goes on to note that the saint’s mien looks more ecstatic than repentant in Gentileschi’s rendering, a tic she connects with. “In finishing my music, I found a deep wildness, a looseness, an acceptance, a release. And that’s exactly what I’m experiencing in this painting.” 

The previous season of Art Zoom featured Jarvis Cocker on Monet, Maggie Rogers on Van Gogh, and Lolo Zouaï on Sandro Botticelli, among others. Watch the 11 episodes of the new season here.

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