Walter Martin Sings Art History

By Adam Kampe
Musician Walter Martin performing with guitar in hand.

Walter Martin performs. Photo by Marlon Russell Jr.

A Washington, DC native, Walter Martin has been obsessed with music since he was a young teenager. "By the time I was maybe 13 or 14, I was in a band, and it just became a huge part of my life. I became obsessed with listening to music and buying new music and finding music. And I still am." Martin also grew up learning about and loving other kinds of art, especially visual art and eventually majored in art history.* However, his occupation would be and still is musician. For years, he performed in the successful band, the Walkmen. After the band took an indefinite break a few years back, he decided to make music on his own. While sorting out the concept for this sophomore album, Martin turned to his collection of art books and wondered, "Maybe it'll be funny if I write all about those people on my bookshelf." An album was born. 

On Arts and Leisure, he tells funny and touching stories about his experiences with art. It's a smart, accurate way to address not only the joy and beauty associated with art, but also the enigmatic theories that can overshadow or get in the way of enjoying art. Anyone who’s been transfixed or even confused by a work of art understands just how mysterious the experience can be. The ineffable feeling is capable of taking many forms. Sometimes it tugs at your heart strings or it shocks you like an icicle to the spine. Martin wanted to tackle this subject matter because it is not easy to talk about art. There’s a fear of saying the wrong thing or simply not "getting it." On the other hand, you can sound too precious or pretentious. Wisely, instead of taking the project, or himself, too seriously, Martin did the opposite—he composed an album that is simultaneously contemplative, imaginative, and, simply put, fun. Press play above to hear his thoughts, in his own voice, non-narrated. 

*Sidenote: Martin's uncle happens to be Mark Leithauser who is chief of design and senior curator at the National Gallery of Art. There's actually a song on Arts and Leisure about a painting at the NGA—Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley. Mark Leithauser is also the father of Hamilton Leithauser, the lead singer of the band, the Walkmen. You can learn more about Mark Leithauser and what his work entails in the latest issue of NEA Arts.]

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