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Music Inspired by Art: 5 Tracks Every Art Lover Should Know

What do the songs “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay, “Slide” by Calvin Harris and Frank Ocean, and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day all have in common? Classic works of art, of course!

5. “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay

The meaning of Coldplay's album and song "Viva la Vida" refers to two famous works of art, the watermelon painting Viva la Vida by Frida Kahlo and the album cover art of Eugene Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People.

Viva la Vida (1954) by artist Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo’s Viva la Vida is about a celebration of life despite its sorrows and troubles. Kahlo was plagued by pain and illness throughout her short life, and it is widely believed that Viva la Vida was her last painting, completed just days before she died at the age of 47.

Liberty Leading the People (1830) by Eugene Delcroix

Like Frida Kahlo's watermelons, it's easy to see why Coldplay was also inspired by Eugene Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People painting which was also used as the cover art for their Viva la Vida album. The overall meaning of Delacroix's painting remains optimistic, even in spite of its deathly overtones. The road is not clear and victory is not sure, but Liberty leads the people and does her best to inspire them to keep calm and carry on in spite of it all.

4. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day

Green Day lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, wrote the song about his time in New York City "feeling alone" and trying to take power from it. The song's overall concept is from Gottfried Helnwein’s 1984 painting Boulevard of Broken Dreams, where James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley sit together in an all-night diner. However, during the 2005 VH1 Storytellers program featuring Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong stated that the title of the song was "nicked" from the 2005 Helnwein painting of James Dean walking alone. Either way, it was Helnwein’s work that was the inspiration behind the song.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams (1984) by Gottfried Helnwein

Boulevard of Broken Dreams, James Dean (2005) by Gottfried Helnwein

3. “Slide” by Calvin Harris and Frank Ocean

The song “Slide” by Calvin Harris and Frank Ocean is about the desire to “slide” into living a rich and lavish lifestyle. The section below is from the song and refers to a painting by Pablo Picasso called Garçon à la pipe (A Boy with a Pipe) which recently sold for an exorbitant amount, $104 million, in 2004.

“I might

Empty my bank account

And buy that boy with a pipe

Buy that boy with a pipe

I might, I might

Empty my bank account

And buy that boy with a pipe

Buy that boy with a pipe

I might”

Garçon à la pipe (A Boy with a Pipe) (1905) by Pablo Picasso

2. “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole

There is no shortage of amazing musical artists who have written about the painting “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci, including All-American Rejects, Panic! at the Disco,, and Brad Paisley.

Arguably the world's most famous painting, the "Mona Lisa" hangs in the Louvre in Paris, where it draws approximately 10 million visitors each year. Mystery has surrounded the identity of the painting's subject for centuries, with speculation ranging from the wife of a Florentine merchant to Leonardo's own mother. Some think that Leonardo's taste for pranks and riddles might have led him to conceal his own identity behind that baffling smile, while others have speculated that, given Leonardo's presumed homosexuality, the painting hid an androgynous lover.

The traditional view is that the model for the "Mona Lisa" is Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a rich silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, which is how the painting got its Italian name "La Gioconda."

Mona Lisa (between 1503 and 1519) by Leonardo da Vinci

1. “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” by Don McLean

Written as a tribute to Vincent van Gogh‘s tragic life and the artist’s most famous painting, The Starry Night, the words of the song came to Don McLean as he looked at Vincent Van Gogh's 1889 painting. Soon, he had a masterpiece of his own. "Vincent" is the 1972 hit that McLean released right on the heels of his defining epic, "American Pie."

Even Tupac Shakur was a fan of the song. He once told the Los Angeles Times, "The lyric on that song is so touching. That’s how I want to make my songs feel."

The Starry Night (1889) by Vincent van Gogh



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