Prior to going any further, let me just get this out of the way. No, I would not consider Andy Warhol a very good artist, much less a great one. And, yes, his biggest claims to fame — repetition, mass production, irony, the overuse of color — merely took one or two ideas that MIGHT have worked as part of a smaller series, and made an entire life’s work of it, as opposed to a short, controlled burst of activity that would have been far easier to justify.
In short, this is the equivalent of having a single, minor idea, not being happy with its general lack of application, and therefore deciding to write the same 1,200 page book about it, a hundred times over, albeit with slightly different formatting at each go. Obviously, painting some banal object, or re-touching someone else’s photo, over and over again, can only take an artist so far, ending, as it does, precisely where the work ends: a colored image of a bad actress or dictator, or an ode to the commonness of soup — and the ‘deeper’ (I use this word lightly) reactions to said commonness. Sure, one can think of far worse paintings and/or statements, but this, by itself, does not ameliorate the real issue. It only reveals how easily confused the public is, manipulated, as it is, by artists who consider themselves above the sort of pettiness that they in fact engage in, thus taking the heat away from their own lacks.
Yet there’s another side to Warhol, as well. Unlike, say, the repetition of a Jackson Pollock, or the self-serving ‘explanations’ (if they can even be termed such) of a Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol had an advantage that these other folks did not. And I don’t just mean talent, because Warhol, in his ‘serious’ moments, was far more penetrating re: the arts, and FAR more self-aware when it came to his place there — including the transience of his own position, and what it says not only of other artists, but of the consumers who respond to such.
And, naturally, these responses aren’t very pretty. A couple of months ago, I watched a few documentaries on Warhol, including a 3 hour doc (“The Complete Picture”) and a better, 4 hour one. Yet I use the word ‘better’ loosely, since the only real reason why the 4 hour doc was better was stylistic — on top of the fact that it actually quoted a great deal from Warhol, who could be very interesting to listen to, at times. In fact, the primary drawback of both is their overuse of talking-heads, and especially clueless talking-heads that, in their admiration of Warhol, offer no real criticism, no original insight, and merely take Warhol’s art at face value, raving about the color saturation of this or that photo, or throwing around terms and judgments that, if one merely has eyes, clearly ill apply to the subject at hand. It’s a terrible thing to watch, really, but instructive, for in this sort of behavior are the seeds of Warhol’s importance — even if, ultimately, it has little to do with the art, itself.
That’s because in the history of the 20th century, few artists have been as ‘celebrated’ as Warhol, or as culturally relevant. There was, early on, Picasso, but Picasso was a genuinely great artist, and influential in the permanent sense — that is, helping to usher in a revolution in art that, for decades and even centuries hence, will continue to affect the way that artists communicate. As for Pollock, Rothko, et al.: certainly influential, but transiently so, in the same way that a bad pop singer might be influential, but merely blip in and out of the present and future with no real after-effects. So it is with Abstract Expressionism, a kind of stain in art history that, over time, will be washed and re-washed until one will finally look upon at the faded color, and not even remember how it got there, or what the hell it was. Blip!
Not so with Warhol, however, who, one or two centuries hence, will merely be seen as a sign of the way that people respond to art, on a purely social level, not only via his own then-mostly-forgotten pieces, but through the sort of phenomena he helped unleash, such as The Factory and other hot-spots that artists might congregate around. The difference, of course, is that not only did Warhol create these spaces, but that he manipulated (almost single-handedly) the sort of conflicts, events, and media attention they’d engender, playing artists against one another, or offering some subtle but inflammatory word or two in the hopes of getting a ‘reaction’ from this or that hothead. This is not, of course, the behavior of an idiot, but of someone in control, and hyper-aware of how artists, especially BAD artists, might function, what they value, and what they might respond to the most, and why. Here was a group of people taking themselves quite seriously, and here was Warhol as a corrective, even if, in a sense, he was the biggest bullshitter of them all.
In a way, then, Warhol can be said to represent a kind of final stage before art’s next (and, up until then, GREATEST) revolution: that of self-awareness. But while Warhol’s self-awareness was limited to social issues, psychological fluff, and the cross-currents of art, business, and personality, art, as a whole, will REALLY move forward when its artists finally realize what they are doing, and be able to replicate great material at will. It won’t be guess-work any more, it won’t be instinct, and perhaps, in time, it will even be void of the sort of the exaggerated personalities we’ve come to expect from the art world. At that point, Warhol will, quite naturally, be relegated to the status of a ‘curio,’ and that’s that. Yet he will have been there, first, no matter how bad his intentions were, at times, or how mis-aligned with the goals of true art and genuine communication. This, unfortunately, is how life comes — as a confluence of trajectories, rather than a single, indomitable line. That’s why Warhol is important, even if his art is, or will be, quite tertiary.
Prior to signing off, however, I’ll leave you with a few choice quotes from Warhol. Now, say what you will of his talent, but he certainly knew what the hell was going on in other regards:
“Naturally, the Factory had fags; we were in the entertainment business and — That’s Entertainment!”
“Candy [a transvestite] didn’t want to be a perfect woman– that would be too simple, and besides it would give her away. What she wanted was to be a woman with all the little problems that a woman has to deal with — runs in her stocking, runny mascara, men that left her. She would even ask to borrow Tampaxes, explaining that she had a terrible emergency. It was as if the more real she could make the little problems, the less real the big one — her cock — would be.”
“We’d sit in gardens or sidewalk cafes for hours, and I’d listen to everyone discuss abstract things like whether some new person was ‘definitive’ enough to become a superstar or whether someone else was too ‘self-absorbed’ or ‘self-destructive’. I was fascinated by the way people could read so much into so many things, but then you never knew if you were getting to know the person or getting to know the drug they were on.”
“Before I was shot, I always believed I was watching TV instead of living life. Right when I was being shot, I knew I was watching television. Since I was shot, everything is such a dream to me. I don’t know whether or not I’m really alive, whether I died. It’s sad. Life is a dream– I wasn’t afraid before. And having died once, I shouldn’t feel fear. But I’m afraid. I don’t understand why. I’m afraid of God alone, and I wasn’t before.”
“Dying is the most embarrassing thing that can ever happen to you, because someone’s gotta take care of all your details. You’ve died, and someone’s gotta take care of the body, make the funeral arrangements, pick out the casket and the service, and the cemetery, and the clothes for you to wear, and get someone to style you and do the makeup. You’d like to help them, and most of all, you’d like to do the whole thing yourself. But you’re dead, so you can’t. Here you’ve spent your whole life trying to make enough money to take care of yourself, so you won’t bother anybody else with your problems. And then you wind up dumping the biggest problem ever into somebody else’s lap. It’s a shame. I never understood why when you died, you didn’t just vanish, and everything could just keep going the way it was– only you just wouldn’t be there.”
“It was so strange, I thought: you get to the point in life where you’re actually invited to the party of parties– the one people all over the world were trying desperately to get invited to– and it still didn’t guarantee that you wouldn’t feel like a dud! I wondered if anybody ever achieves an attitude where nothing and nobody can ever intimidate them. I thought, ‘Does the president of the United States ever feel out of place? Does Liz Taylor? Does Picasso? Does the queen of England? Or do they always feel equal to anyone and anything?”
It shd be noted that Warhol’s savvy was a direct result of a decade of his being the go-to Boy Genius of Madison Ave advertising in the 50s.
He did have talent, and had he pursued real art he might have made it, but he was lazy and took the easy way out, and let fame leach him.
But, I knew many folks who knew him, or claimed to, and he seemed to be interesting.
The debate has always been how much of ‘Andy’ was Warhol. Like Michael Jackson, his fey persona was clearly a public ruse. I use this in my own fictive characterization of him. I think he does provide the easier half of the equation.
For that alone he dwarfs the AbExers and much of the Moderns.
4 hrs on anything Warhol is 4 hrs too much for me. I prefer Dan’s fictional version of him.
7 hours in total. Some of Warhol’s words were moving, however.
Andy Warhol? More like Andy Borehol if you ask me! (yeah, I really showed that dead guy.) He always came across as that guy people like not because of his art, but what he represented, kind of like how people and my former creative writing professor like Bukowski because he was “cool.” I mean they like his poetry too, but it’s the idea of Bukowski that people gravitate towards and is why he’s still so well-known. But if he were a boring asshole that worked at a gas station then no one would be mentioning his name now.
Warhol is known as the weird, “soup guy” but if he didn’t have his persona then I’m not sure his art would have sold as well (you know that whole thing about salesmen not necessarily selling their products, but themselves.) Not that he had some great ideas, like that video of him eating a burger for 5-10 minutes. It’s great conceptually, but in practice…ehhh. I wouldn’t watch it, but I still think it’s hilarious that it exists.
But as Dan points out, much of what the public knows of him is a construction to sell goofy-colored portraits. I think Bukowski was a phoney and so was Hemingway, but people like that shit. (Hemingway was a better writer than Bukowski, but, like Bukowski, it’s the idea of Hemingway that people are attracted to.)
I remember one guy was telling me how great Faulkner was and the first thing he told me about was not anything to do with his writing, but how he pretended to have fought in the war and walked around with a cane for years to fool people. Hey, I can be enormous asshole too! Can I be considered a great artist too? It seems most people are more interested in personalities and attractive narratives rather than the art itself.
Yes, the persona was important– but that shouldn’t obscure that, beyond the posturing and silliness of most of what he’d done, he was a pretty interesting person, with a number of insights both into himself as well as the art world as a whole.
For this reason, he will likely be one of the few exceptions to the rule that quality is the only thing to truly last. Pop art will, at some point, have its first serious and talented communicator, and Warhol will be the prototype for such, not to mention being remembered as a historical curio beyond the blip/hiccup that Ab Ex will ultimately devolve to.
Yeah maybe I jumped the gun since Warhol wasn’t really a boring hipster/poser. Yeah, a phoney though maybe that’s not always a bad thing.
Who the fack is Bukowski? Get my drift? This ahole Warhol, and any drivel written about him is shite at best. Drivel written about a drivel. Congratulations, idiotic hypocrite.
Andrew – thing is, the only true lasting work of art of Warhol is probably Warhol, himself. Given the rise of vapid street art, the insane inflation that has afflicted art-buying circles, proponents of video-games-as-art, and other such “pop” trends in the arts world, Warhol was ahead of his time in many ways, even as he was more a provocateur than a real skillful communicator.
I wonder what this is gonna look like 40-50 years from now. ‘Interactive’ art will finally be making its way in, but in the genuine sense of such, not in the videogame-esque meaning normally ascribed to it. Parameters will reign once more…and the consumer’s choices will be meaningful, and more so a matter of engagement with, rather than IN, the thing.
Interesting point.Despite the vitriol of my comment I still kind of find it funny that Warhol existed, but I couldn’t help but conflate him with today’s hipster-douches, though that might have been unfair since Warhol was a lot more clever and interesting than most posers today.
There was probably a clear line, though, from Warhol to the hipster types. He was one of the people to make art “cool,” and in between the Ab Ex formlessness and the seriousness of classical painting, here was a guy who could sort of paint, sort of do something ‘neat’ with colors, and so, the hipster crowds (rightly) assumed this applied to them, as well. Still, even if he has his natural descendants, he’s a little different from that kin.
He’s not someone I could have had much personal respect for, or have liked, as he traded in any talent of his to be a fame-seeking, vapid douche, thereby valuing stupid bullshit over matters of importance.
try using a photo of the real Warhol and not an imitator..though God knows he’d love it.
What everyone misses is that Andy Warhol made it all right for everyone – everyone – to know art. Like it? That’s another matter. But he made “high” art accessible to the “common” man…which is who Warhol was.
Andy Warhol was an American Hero, the definition of the American Dream. He came from dirt poor conditions in the Polish ghettos of Philly – literally living in a two room house with his five family members – and became the biggest name in art world…a name that continues to be the biggest. Warhol worked to own this distinction while changing the way the business of art is conducted. When first arriving in NYC in 1949, most gay men – in particular ones that wanted to be successful – went to extraordinary lengths to hide his homosexuality. Johns, Rauschenberg…all of them.
Interestingly, Warhol didn’t do this, yet became the biggest commercial artist in the city.
Andy Warhol, despite common misconception – was truly brave and made a difference on so many levels in contemporary art that his contributions are basically immeasurable…
Yes, and this is why his contribution was not to art, itself, but to art’s consumption. This has a value, but not a value as art, which involves genuine creation, and quality creation, at that.
Re: being an American hero, I disagree. He came from nothing but quickly grew rich, exploited (intelligently, I might add) others’ vulnerabilities, others need to worship and to be worshiped, and constructed a massive bloc of illusions that others were all too willing to merely swallow. Impressive, yes; perhaps even capital-g Great, in the social sense, but a hero he is not.
This is someone who’ll be talked about as a cultural innovator, in the limited sense such things imply, not an artist.