Last Friday I was asked by a colleague at work my feelings on Andy Warhol. I am not a big fan and said so. But when asked to elaborate I danced around ideas about his impact on art and even the personal impression he made on me during interviews. Something about the conversation struck me as not complete and over the weekend I poked and prodded it. I really engaged in Warhol, re-watched a couple of documentaries (Andy Warhol’s Factory People and Andy Warhol: The Complete Picture), really took a look at the length and breadth of his artwork online, and thought about the context in which he was making art. It was a decidedly aggravating process. I just don’t like him, but now I have a better idea why.

It seems, at least to me, that visual art (at least European-American visual art) up to Warhol and the “pop artists” included something more than the mere reflection of our everyday existence. Whether it was the medieval Pre-Raphaelites critique of mechanized society and longing for a reconnection with the natural world, the Impressionists democratization of light, space and social status, or the soul searching existentialism of the Abstract Expressionists, artists were striving to change, examine, and understand the world around them. Art was a striving for something and a catalyst of change. Warhol’s art is not that.

Warhol’s art was a reflection of popular culture and is now a reflected nostalgia for a particular period in time. It was not striving for deeper understanding. It cruises along the surface of American culture from the 60’s through the 80’s. He held up popular images primarily generated out of the consumerist attitudes that have dominated American life since World War II. The Campbell’s soup can, Marylyn Monroe, Elvis, Mickey Mouse were all consumer products that he repurposed. But to what end?

Was he criticizing popular culture? There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it, he painted/ printed what he liked.

Was he glorifying it? Perhaps, in some cases definitely.

Was he using it to further his own fame? Maybe not in the beginning, but definitely as he went forward.

The fact is, he refused to tell us anything about his purpose, hiding behind an artistic pretension while breaking down the barriers between high art and art of the everyday. In the process he fully submerged art in consumerism. And his ability to make it look cool to do so has made it tough to make art that strives for something more and have it taken seriously. And this is what I don’t like about Warhol, I feel like he has undermined the “moral” power of art and replaced it with the power of the free market. In doing so he has contributed to a shift in the primary art question from “what does it mean” to “how much is it worth”.

Eric in a Word: effodient
Book of the Day: The Philosophy of History - Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Song of the Day: Music is Ruling My World - Kutiman feat. Funk'N'stein and Karolina

Religious Figure of the Day: Qetesh
Sketch medium: graphite over tea spill on graph paper (approx. 3.5" x 4.75")


Meg-han said...

Qetesh was a Ga'ould on Stargate SG-1...and now I have to go do something insanely cool to make up for that one dorky moment. :)

I'm not really a Warhol fan, either, but have to admit to a slight admiration of his style. And the fact that pop art wouldn't be what it is without him (which may or may not be a good thing).

abigail worden said...

"If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me - and there I am. There's nothing behind it"

kinda spoils the beauty and removes all the mystery.

Eric Giles said...

The interesting thing about Warhol's work is that I've wanted to like it for a long time now, but just can't. It's not the skill, I've seen better,and it's definitely not the content or concept. I think it's the "take it or leave it" attitude that he seemed to present his art with. I think I admire the underlying "fuck you" in his attitude to art. Unlike many pop artists, there isn't even anything playful in his work. Perhaps I just want there to be more to his work then there is in actuality.

Eric Giles said...

Meg-han, that was even too dorky for me to follow and that is saying something. You'll have to save som orphans from a burning buildingn wearing sunglasses and black leather, all the while quoting Neruda and drinking a beer. Even then, you made need some kick-ass theme music in the background to even it out.

Meg-han said...

So in other words, I have to go out and do the usual. I've always said I'm a black leather cat suit away from being Mrs. Emma Peel.