My first encounter with Björk happened while watching the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Olympics on a tiny TV in my friend’s basement. I was 14 years old, and I remember distinctly when Bjork came on and started singing. My friends snickered, made some disparaging pre-teen insult, and left the room to go refill their bowls of Cheez-Its or something.
But I was enraptured. I was glued to the screen, wide-eyed and frozen still, absorbing everything I possibly could about this otherworldly woman.
She stood rooted to the ground, swaying her arms sinuously like a cat’s tail, as her intricate dress billowed and flooded the entire stadium floor. She was small and seemed delicate, but her voice was powerful and confident.
Björk was a musician unlike any I had ever seen before. She was beautiful but weird, tiny but huge, gentle but intense. She was not just a singer, she was an artist.
And I was obsessed.
From then on, throughout high school and college, I sucked up everything Björk I could get my hands on—which, back then, before Spotify and the proliferation of YouTube, was not so easy.
These days, I write often about artistic influences, especially childhood ones, and how impactful they are on how our art develops. With that perspective now, I’m able to reflect back and see that Björk heavily influenced my creative philosophy. Here are three things Björk taught me about being an artist.
1. Challenge the Expected
Björk excels at doing the unexpected and challenges us to think beyond what’s already been done. She’s a musician, but she doesn’t only make albums. She makes all-encompassing projects that include albums, apps, gallery exhibitions, fashion, films, even scientific research. She doesn’t allow herself to be pigeon-holed or narrowly confined to being a singer or pop star. She sees herself as an artist, and she makes the art she feels called to make in that moment, whatever form or medium that may be.
2. Work with Both the Light + Dark
Björk also taught me that a person can be both timid and bold, small and powerful, light and dark. She did not fit the mold of the typical early 2000’s female pop star. Her ethereal voice flows seamlessly from the lowest lows to the highest highs, while her lyrics touch on the intensity of emotional life. Her music videos work with her music to visualize this constant tension of light and dark emotions, often showing her ping-ponging back and forth from giggling to screaming. She showed me that it’s human to have this intensity inside you and that, perhaps, art was a method of getting it out. A way of seeing it, touching it, and transforming it into something else. She was unafraid to probe deep and sit with both her lightness and darkness.
3. Be A Childlike Adult
Björk straddles the line of childlike innocence with adult seriousness. Even when she appears to be being completely silly and nonsensical, there’s an undercurrent of profoundness. She showed me that being an artist requires holding on to your inner child, and never letting the world turn you hard and cold. That, in order to continue creating innovative art, you have to constantly be exploring yourself and the world around you with the unquenchable curiosity and awe of a child.
Björk once did an AMA on Reddit, and someone asked her how she handles creative block. She responded:
“I think creativity always lives somewhere in everyone, but its nature is quite pranksterish and slippery and everytime u grab its tail its found a nu corner to thrive in. perhaps the trick is not to force it and put it up against a wall and want it to be in a particular area. but rather w a lot of kindness sniff it out and wonder where it has gone to this time around… If its in sauce recipes, writing theatre plays, papermache improv w nephews, discovering nu hiking routes or simply trying to figure out a family members sense of humour. i def dont succeed in this all the time but feel overall things have been more fertile when i trust this creatures instincts and follow it rather than me willfully reforming it into a circus animal colouring by numbers.”–Björk
Bjork taught me that artists aren’t here to sit down and adhere to the rules and do the same thing over and over in the way that is expected of us. We’re here to break the rules, challenge what’s possible, and make new connections. We’re here to follow the slippery creature of creativity and do our own thing.
Björk taught me that it’s ok to be weird, perhaps even good to be weird. And that often, that’s what being an artist is all about.