Teaching Materials

Basquiat (1996)


Biographical drama “Basquiat” introduces us to the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, full of dramatic and extraordinary events. An American artist of French descent has died at the age of 27 at the zenith of his fame.

XX Century, USA of 1980s

  • American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has gained popularity in New York with his graffiti painting. In the 1980s he became one of the founders of Neo-Expressionism and Punk Art. His artistic biography is divided into three periods: early period – 1980-1982, during which time he was interested in human and animal skeletons and masked faces, in this way the artist showed interest in the theme of death; Middle period – from 1982 to 1985, during which time his interest in Haitian descent dominated; The last period lasted from 1982 to 1988, during which time the artist’s new expressive techniques and manners were revealed.
  • In 1988, Basquiat died at his own art studio at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose.
  • In the film, Andy Warhol, an American artist, director and pop artist of the 1960s, is played by David Bowie, the greatest musician of the twentieth century. The role of Swiss gallery owner and collector Bruno Bischofberger is played by American actor Dennis Hopper. The role of American poet, artist, actor and art critic Rene Ricard is played by Michael Wincott.
  • British actor Gary Oldman plays a fictional character in the film. Albert Milo did not really exist in Basque life, critics say Milo’s character is a prototype of the film’s director Julian Schnabel, it is the director’s self-deprecating cinematic interpretation of his own persona.
  • Basquiat is still inspiration for many artists, his popularity increased even more since his death. His untitled work, dated 1981, was sold for $14.6 million in 2007. In 1985, New York Times Magazine named the Basquiat as the youngest and most interesting artist of the 1980s.
  • If Basquiat was white, would his biography and work change?
  • Historians call the artist’s work a product of the controversial culture of the 80s. What do you think this phrase should mean?
  • Basquiat was painting graffiti in the streets of New York with the inscription SAMO-Same old Shit. What do you think this phrase should mean and with what “correct” methods it tried to attract public attention?
  • What is the character of Basquiat depicted in the film, how similar is he to the real artist? What was the director’s goal in creating the artist’s biographical drama?
  • Describe the Basquiat’s attitude towards colleagues and competitors
  • In real life, Basquiat and Andy Warhol met in 1981. The symbolic of American Pop Art was the young artist’s closest friend and mentor for the rest of their lives. They also created a collaboration that combined graffiti and pop. What is their relationship in the film? What character traits does the author of the film emphasize?
  • After the financial success, the life of the Basquiat has changed. As it is said “Jean Michel became the one he criticized”. How and in what form are the turning points in the artist’s life reflected in the film?
  • Where do you think is the borderline between art and real life? How well does the Basque character (and other artists) manage to “keep the edge” in the film? Does art need boundaries?

Write about this film

Focus on the artist’s character while writing about the film, taking into account the epoch-making contexts and issues raised during the discussion. If at the beginning of his career minimalism was a priority, then he creates a completely new artworks under the influence of a primitive and neo-expressionist style. Basquiat’s work is shaped by his favorite animations and childhood memories. Along with the current events in the film, pay attention to its origins, which the artist himself always emphasizes in a visual form: black athletes, writers, musicians are represented with the crown! His creations are saturated with various messages, metaphors and symbols. When writing about a film, try to write examples from several artworks, discussing what each should mean for a particular piece.

For Individual work
Find out more information about American art from the 1980s. Reflect on the work of the Basquiat in a cultural context. The artist himself was inspired by African American history, the ideas of which he combined in his work with the fight against racism.

Group work/additional activities
Curriculum links: Fine Arts

Basquiat has adapted the African-American and Latin experience to an elite art space. The streets of New York in the 1980s, voodoo culture, Christian mythology, and the heroes of the ancient world are part of the Basquiat’s artistic world. At the age of 8, while playing in the street, he was hit by a car, broke his arm and received severe injuries. During the rehabilitation period, mother brought him medical guide-Gray’s Anatomy. The sketches in the book became an inspiration for the young artist. Discuss what was the reason for Basquiat’s popularity, how much his biographical passages were read in his works.

Additional activities:
After discussion and group work, students can visualize the narrative material. Create a wall newspaper or presentation where you will analyze any particular work in historical, political, social and cultural contexts.

Expected Result

As a result of watching the film, discussion and writing a review in which it is necessary to use epoch-making contexts and the above recommendations, the student will be more aware of the life and work of the French artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.


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