arts

Another Look at Andy Warhol

warhol self-portraitIf you don’t think Andy Warhol was a man ahead of his time, take a good look around you at our celebrity culture and artists who are more like businesses. Then remember who it was that first said, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."

And that’s hardly the only manifestation of his futuristic bent. Warhol was really the first 20th century artist to turn himself into a business. Art, music, film -- he was a prolific creator and purveyor of pop (popular) culture. Certainly not the only pop artist on the scene in the 60s (the other great ones included Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, Peter Max, Larry Rivers, Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, to name just a few), Warhol was one of the most astute business-wise and he had no fear of the commercial label. Quite the opposite, he was attracted to Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo boxes because campbells soupthey were so commercial.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Warhol was never in good health. Hereditary gallbladder disease (which eventually was the cause of his death) was just the start of his health problems. In the 3rd grade he came down with St. Vitus’ dance (when was the last time you heard about someone who had that?) and spent much of his childhood bed-ridden and in a hypochondriac state (understandably). That’s also when he started drawing and collecting pictures and developing his artistic mindset.

After studying at Carnegie Institutue of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon), Warhol went to New York and did well with his illustration work in the advertising industry. By the 60s, Warhol was painting the soup cans along with the movie stars he revered as a child - Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Troy Donahue. Warhol was a magnet for artists, musicians, writers and wanna-bes, so it wasn’t long before he was calling his studio “The Factory.” Looking at dollar signstoday’s commercial artists, Jeff Koons for example, and you can see that a long line of commercially successful artists have been using the Warhol playbook for years -- and it still works.

Warhol migrated to silk screening for artistic reasons as well as the fact that he could increase his output by producing serially. Here again he is a model for the commercial artists who have set up assembly lines with assistants providing most of the labor to produce the art that the artist “creates.” Recognizing his own talent as a producer rather than creator, it was no surprise that Warhol moved into film and music, and founded the magazine Interview and adopted the band Velvet Underground.

Despite intense criticism at the time, if you look back at his considerable output, Warhol's cans, Monroes, dollar bills, and mushroom clouds, the films, the magazine, The Factory -- they are all iconic representations of an entire era. A man and an artist ahead of his time.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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