When we think of Pop Art, it is inevitable to conjure up the image of the legendary American artist- Andy Warhol. Andrew Warhola (Andy Warhol) –the ‘Prince of Pop’ who had multiple identities, is recognized as the pioneer of the American Pop Art movement and one of the most influential artists as well as writers of the 20th century. A child from Czech-immigrant family, Andy Warhol was born and grew up in a poor industrial town of Pittsburgh, studied at Carnegie Tech (Carnegie Mellon) and moved to New York climbing higher the ladder of art career. Famous for his avant-garde Pop Art paintings and screen printings, he utterly refined what art could be: he transformed the nature of Fine Art in the 1950s and 1960s and posed a powerful impact on contemporary art landscape. In fact Andy Warhol is one of the few, if not the only one, to apply the elements of commercialism and advertising into the field of Fine Art. Revealed by his writings on Art, Andy Warhol’s pop artworks showcases a challenge to the Fine art tradition and reflects American mass popular cultures in the 1960s.
Throughout pop art history in the United States, Andy’s Warhol led a significant role. Pop art movement emerged in England in early 1950s and late 1950s in America, initiated by Andy Warhol. The term ‘Pop’ coined by the art critic Lawrence Alloway in 1954, is clipped from the word ‘popular’ and at the very beginning it referred to the advertisement on magazines, posters in front of cinemas and propaganda, which largely differ from the wider meaning of an art movement regarded by people nowadays (Lawrence Alloway). Today, in general Pop Art is seen as a mass popular art, stressing the everyday, commonplace values, and is “popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business”, described by the American artist Richard Hamilton (Chilvers, Ian, and Glaves S. John, 776). Sharing similarity to Dada and celebrating materialism and consumerism, Pop art images of Warhol such as commodity are extracted in ordinary lives, and are always juxtaposed with other unrelated materials to defuse the personal symbolism, “painterly looseness” of Abstract Expressionism and brings back hard-edged composition and representational art (Mahsun,244).Noticeably although there are a few American artists before tried to express the spirit of ‘Pop’ in their art works, Andy Warhol is the “first one” who could introduce this significant art concept to the people influentially by using techniques such as repetition, ‘impersonal, reality, parody and irony’(Louisiana, 34). Famous for repeating one image as the single material of the picture, Andy Warhol was a dominant representation figure of ‘Pop Art’ movement and marks his prominent status in the American art history. Overall, undoubtedly Andy Warhol led a major role in contemporary American Pop art history.
Revealed by his writings on art and artworks Andy Warhol revolutionized traditional art by choosing ordinary objects as the theme of works, which shortened the distance between art and ordinary people. Before the Pop art movement, artists held up high the values of art tradition that was out of connection with the society; they were creating a higher threshold of art appreciation and thus art was misinterpreted by the general public as far away from the ordinary life (Louisiana, 20). Being the first one using commercialism in art, Andy Warhol showcased his ambition to debase high art, reduce it to a commodity and raze the barrier between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture.Warhol wrote in his diary saying ‘Pop art is for everyone… I don’t think art should be only for the select few’, emphasizing the importance of art being able to be reached and appreciated by every individual(Francis, Mark and Foster, Hal.,304). In other words, he is dedicated to eradicate the class of ‘high’ or ‘low’ arts so that ‘when [people] think about [art], department stores are kind of like museums’(Sylvester). To achieve this goal, his subjects were those ‘images that anybody walking down Broadway could recognize in a split second–comics, picnic tables, men’s trousers, celebrities, shower curtains, refrigerators, coke bottles’, or product labeling and logo used in advertising. The theme of consumerism had never been adapted in Fine Art before, but Andy changed the concept of art appreciation as the center of subject is commodity, something accessible in our daily lives- one significant illustration was the use of commodity label in Campbell’s Soup Cans by putting fifty soup cans together on a canvas. In contrast to the abstract expressionists who ‘tried so hard not to notice [the great modern things] at all’, Warhol’s Pop art helps people to rediscover the flavor of life, as what he says: ‘Once you “got” Pop, you could never see a sign again the same way again.’ (Louisiana, 43). It is clear that Warhol was ‘seeking to create a real art of the people’, and ‘returning to a popular tradition’ (Louisiana, 43). Through choosing the objects commonly found around, Andy Warhol refines traditional art to a more reachable popular art by shortening the distance between art and everybody at that time.
His writings and artworks revolutionizes traditional art in terms of the production and business mode of Pop art. In the past, a traditional artwork was oil-painted and manually produced in a slow rate; but in 1960s, to make an irony and mimic the industrialism of the modern society, Warhol not only depicted mass products but his artworks are also mass produced to achieve the proliferation of art,showing the similarity with factory products. He actually established an art studio named The Factory in 1962, employing ‘art workers’ to produce Pop screen prints and posters in a large quantity there; also the pseudo-industrial silk paint he used enables mass production of artworks generating fortunes, considering as ‘a commercial, non-artistic vehicle’ to substitute the artist’s individual style (Louisiana, 12). Enthralled by the success and promising profit of the art business, he argued‘[m]aking money is art and working is art and good business is the best art’. For instance, in regards to the set of photograph reproduction work of celebrities such as James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, Mao Zedong and Marilyn Monroe, Warhol declared that he wanted to ‘be a machine’ to produce it ‘over and over again’ to earn as much money as possible (Louisiana, 56). It is noticeable that the remarkable economic value of art is rediscovered by Warhol; through the minimization of his own manual role involved in the production Warhol sparked a revolution in art.
Echoing his writings on Pop art, Andy Warhol’s work showcases a mass popular American culture in the 1960s. Popular culture refers to the prevalent idea, attitudes, images, perspectives as a mainstream in the society of a certain period.During the 1960s in United States where consumerism and capitalism are in vogue,Andy Warhol’s Pop art includes many notable commercial related images that art critics commented that he is ’a mirror of the society of his time’ (Louisiana, 185). Letalone the large American dollar bills, the best known American symbols such as trademarks of Campbell’s soup tins, Brillo, Heinz and Coca-Cola, or celebrities of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Campbell’s Soup all can be found in Warhol’s early production (Louisiana, 55). Despite consumerism, it also reflects America’s greatest core value of equality: according to Warhol, ‘[w]hat’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are good, Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it…?’ (Louisiana, 16). Moreover, Andy constructed an identity for himself and became a cultural symbol of America, as his art also becomes a form of advertising about him being an artist. With reference to his works titled ‘Self-portrait’, the self-portraiture was a central theme using advertising element in Andy Warhol’s extensive body of work; his face is now as familiar and recognizable’ as the pop idols and commercial icons he depicted and serialized (The Williams College Museum of Art). Due to his widely influential and recognizable American image, he even declared that ‘I think I represent America.”(Gianfranco, 180). Incorporating a variety of elements illustrating pop icon,commodity, and even the self- portrait of Warhol himself; indisputably Andy Warhol’s work presents a mass popular American culture in the 1960s.
With no doubt Andy Warhol attracted the worldwide attention and made a foray into the world of theatre, and inarguably ‘Warhol’s gaze is supported by a ‘materialistic ecstasy’, as many people regard that the society starting from 1960s is ‘no longer a place for interpersonal relations’, but ‘a simple transfer of goods’ (Gianfranco, 177). Not only a mirror of his consumerism society of the time, Andy Warhol’s artwork also refined the definition of art: he helped substitute the society which lost interest in the learned art of museums with what could be easily accessible on streets or supermarket. Despite being an artist, Warhol is also a writer writing splendid ideas on art; together with the pop artworks, he challenges the Fine art tradition and reflects American mass popular cultures, influencing the mass media and the public powerfully throughout the visual art to the present day.
Chilvers, Ian, and Glaves S. John. A dictionary of modern and contemporary art. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
Francis, Mark and Foster, Hal. Pop. Phaidon Press, 2005.
Gianfranco Rosini. Andy Warhol: Art and Life. Taipei: Artist Publishing, 2008. Print.
Lawrence Alloway; Critic, Curator, Pop Art Innovator. 6 January, 1990.http://articles.latimes.com/1990-01-06/news/mn-432_1_pop-art. 27 Feb. 2012.
Livingstone, M., Pop Art: A Continuing History, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Andy Warhol and His World. 40. 2 (2000): 12-30. Print.
Mahsun, Carol Anne. Pop art: the critical dialogue. UMI Research Press, 1989.
Sylvester, David. “Factory to warehouse: ‘When you think of it,’ Andy Warhol said, ‘department stores are kind of like museums.’ Now he has a museum of his own: a dollars 12m warehouse conversion which opened last Monday in Pittsburgh, his home town. It’s a fitting showcase for his repetitive genius”. The Independent. 22 May 1994. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/arts–factory-to-warehouse-when-you-think-of-it-andy-warhol-said-department-stores-are-kind-of-like-museums-now-he-has-a-museum-of-his-own-a-dollars-12m-warehouse-conversion-which-opened-last-monday-in-pittsburgh-his-home-town-its-a-fitting-showcase-for-his-repetitive-genius-1437679.html. 28 Feb. 2012
The Williams College Museum of Art. Warhola Becomes Warhol – Andy Warhol: Early Work. n.d. http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/7aa/7aa111.htm. 28 Feb. 2012.
Warhol, Andy. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, from A to B and back again. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975. Print.