The Influence of Andy Warhol on Pop Art
“Through his channeling of America’s popular culture, Warhol created a new genre of art: pop art”
Numbers spill out of the auctioneers mouth at an incomprehensible speed. Bidding cards shoot into the air pushing the asking price above 40 million dollars. The item up for bidding is not a penthouse in New York or a painting by Monet but rather a silver canvas with the printed images of a car crash.
In 2013, a piece by Andy Warhol sold for 105 million dollars at a Sotheby’s auction(1). While the price tag is certainly astonishing, what is truly fascinating is how todays society has grown to be so interested in pop and modern art styles.
Art can be traced back for thousands of years as a way for humans to express their emotions. However, the drawings of the cavemen are far different from the abstract art that is so popular today. The progression from those drawings to today’s art has been a long and complex journey that required the different stylistic choices of many artists to progress art as a whole through time. Every color choice, canvas, and brushstroke is an embodiment of expression for each individual artist that in aggregate has shaped what humanity calls art. While historians have the job of documenting the past, an artist’s job is to reflect and express opinions on what is occuring during their respective lives. Every artist lives during a time period and in turn every artist has the task of defining the stylistic standards of that era. One artist, Andy Warhol, not only defined the era of Pop Art but also created the era entirely.
Every artist channels events certain events and people as inspiriation for their work. The influences on Warhol’s style can be traced all the way back to his childhood. Born to Slovakian immigrants, Warhol’s childhood was far from normal. He developed Sydenham’s chorea, a disorder that not only caused medical problems, it also caused Warhol to miss school frequently(2). When reflecting on his life, Warhol stated that his childhood that he lived as an outcast in school influenced his personality and stylistic choices. Warhol’s style was further influenced when he enrolled in the Carnegie Institute of Technology. His enrollment marked a monumental change in his artisic development because he chose to enroll in the commercial arts program. Commercial art consists of commercial promotions and advertisements(3). Warhol’s signature style was heavily influenced by his study of commercial art and it can most clearly be seen through his campells soup cans.
While the similarities might not seem apparent between the two images, Warhol’s work is very similar to other commercial art. The colors and object of the two works vary distinctly however they were both created using a method called print screening. Print screening was an integral part of Warhol’s style and he learned this method while studying commercial art. The method consists of using a mesh screen that transfers ink onto to the canvas except for the areas that that have been stenciled out. This process is repeated with differenct colors and different stenciling patterns multiple times until the canvas is entirely saturated(5). This method was popular with commercial artists because it was the most effective way of mass producing prints before the more modern techniques of laser-jet printing were invented. Screen printing defined Andy warhol’s style and he rarely used any other medium in his artwork.
In order to understand how Warhol influenced and created pop art, it is important to understand the previous art period. Before Pop Art became mainstream, the style of Abstract Expressionsim was most common.
Jackson Pollock pioneered this style with paintings such as the, “Print Number 28”. The inspiration for these abstract paintings came from the irrational thoughts and undefined impulses of the subconscious(6). Artists such as Pollock attempted to convey the mystery of the subliminal dream world that all humans possess. The lack of form was the most defining quality of this era in fact most of the paintings were created by random paint splattering.
While most art periods that occurred within a close proximity of eachother share many similarities, Pop Art was a complete change from abstract expressionism because of Warhol’s influence. Instead of channeling his subconscious, Warhol and other artists during the period of pop art channeled consumerism and current events into their work.
During the 1960's, consumerism and commercialism in America had taken over the nation. There was incredible economic growth and all Americans were buying new cars and spending on credit. Everyday, Americans were assaulted with advertisements through radio, t.v, and huge billboards. Popular figures such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley were omnipresent in their influence on popular culture.
Warhol reacted to the assault of advertisements and popular figures by illustrating these trends in his artwork. Through his channeling of America’s popular culture he created a new genre of art: pop art. Though easily and frequently disregarded as anti aesthetic, overly commercial, sensationalized and even vulgar, pop art was a powerful provocateur to historical artistic movements and instructive for the future in its vision of art(7).
Returning to the Campbell’s soup example, this particular work by Warhol is different from the other iconic Campbell’s soup silk screens. In this particular example, Warhol makes a statement about mass-production society. By creating the same can so many times he drains the individuality of each can. This relates to mass-production society because each individual object loses its uniqueness because it is produced so many times. Warhol amplifies the thought of mass-production by cutting off the bottom row of cans which suggests that the silk screen could have continued with even more cans. When asked about this work, Warhol stated that, “ I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning”(8). Warhol wanted viewers to look at the constant repetition of the cans and only see the uniformity of the cans rather than see a meaning behind each indivual can.
Warhol’s “100 cans” influenced pop art in two distinct ways. The first way this work influenced pop art is in the use of a common object. Before Warhol, painting commonplace objects was unheard of but after the creation of this work it became common practice during the time period. Because Warhol was not afraid to use anything as a subject for his work he enabled artists to break from common conceptions about what could be portrayed in artwork.
The second way that Warhol influenced pop art through this work is the way he challenged the question of what can be defined as art. Early critics of the work thought it did not count as art and one gallery manager even went as far as to stack up some cans at his gallery saying that stack of cans was worth more than the value Warhol’s work(9). Pop art is unique from other art periods in that it challenged the very essence of what defines art due to Warhol’s influence especially in, “100 cans”.
Perhaps one of Warhols’s most well known prints, “Marilyn” is an intense reflection of Warhol’s thoughts towards social figures. This work was created shortly after Marilyn Monroe’s sudden death was Warhol’s reaction to the public obsession with Monroe following her death. The silk-screen reproductions are his reaction to both the social frenzy concerning Marilyn Monroe that ensued. With regard to the term, “social-frenzy”, Warhol believed that the media had grown obsessed with the appearance of icon rather than an actual person. To show this thought he purposely obscures the correct color scale for the print and he does not evenly distribute the ink when producing the screen. Both of these effects create a garish and imperfect translation of the perfect face of Marilyn Monroe that the media and public idolized. By obscuring her appearance, Warhol demonstrates that the personality of Marilyn Monroe was more important to him than her physical looks. Warhol was obsessed with the power and banality of popular culture and Marilyn Monroe is a perfect example of how the public had become obsessed with people solely for their physical appearance(10).
Another take on the “Marilyn” prints is the conflict of appearance and reality. Warhol created a large number of “Marilyn” prints that varied in their production quality and colors used to produce the prints. In aggregate, the prints vary vastly in their appearance which directly relates to how Marilyn Monroe was portrayed in a variety of different ways by the media. Similarly to the fact that the “Marilyn” prints look much different with all of the gaudy colors removed, Warhol believed that underneath the filter that the media cast over Marilyn Monroe, there lay a woman much different than what the public took her to be.
“Marilyn” impacted the genre of pop art significantly because it is the defining example of the idolization of public figures. Pop art centers itself around the glorification of popular people and objects of the time and “Marilyn” is the embodiment of the public attitude towards popular figures that all pop artists strive to capture.
Seattle police engage in a high speed chase that results in a man being thrown through his windshield and being impaled on a pole. The horror shown above was captured by a Newsweek reporter John Whitehead(11). The work that Andy Warhol created from the horrific photo is one of his most profound statements about popular culture.
“Green Car Crash” is one of the many silk screen pieces in Andy Warhol’s death and disaster series which is a collection of gruesome photos printed over eachother in a variety of methods. Warhol is the first of his time to use art to commentate on through the media’s representation of morbid events through “Green Car Crash”.
In the media today, headlines that are littered with blood and violence come as no surprise to the average citizen and this constant reptition of the images has made the public numb to the true horror of these events. Warhol shared this thought by stating, “But when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it really doesn’t have and effect.” In “Green Car Crash”, Warhol repeats the horrific image on the screen so that the images overlap on eachother to create the entire work. The reprinting and overlapping of the images is Warhol’s expression of how the public has grown to accept gruesome pictures because they are so commonplace in the media.
The media has an enormous influence over the public perceptions of public events and Warhol commentates on this influence in two separate ways through “Green Car Crash”. First, Warhol believed that the media presented the news with a filter through which the producers decide what they want the public to see. Warhol expresses this belief by shading the entire work in a green filter which effectively covers up some of what the viewer sees.
Secondly, Warhol questions what constitutes the news itself. Because the society of today is obsessed with reality television, services like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, people can go from being virtually unknown to being world famous in a matter of days. The society of today has validated Warhol’s statement made in 1968 that: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”(12). Warhol’s statement directly relates to “Green Car Crash” because this particular image embodies the theme of “fifteen minutes of fame”. The image draws the viewer in with its shock factor but it fails to keep the attention of viewer because there is nothing else of substance to the picture. Just as today’s popular culture trends come in and out of popularity at an increasing rate, the image that Warhol used for “Green Car Crash” is an example of how even an event as shocking as a fatal car crash leaves the public conciousness just as soon as it had entered.
“Green Car Crash” influenced pop art because of the way that the focus of the work was not the aesthetic elements but rather the social messages that it conveyed. Warhol impacted the way that pop art is created because he used his work as a way of personal expression and a vessel through which he expressed his critiques society.
While the silk screen images were Warhol’s primary medium of expression, he also experimented with film throughout his artistic career. These films lacked most conventional devices such as exposition or a plot line. Nevertheless, they are unique and they show Warhol’s artistic talent.
In total, Andy Warhol was instrumental in the creation of the genre of pop art. He dedicated his life to art and he inspired artists of his time and he continues to inspire current artist through his unique stylistic choices.
Warhol was the first to use screen printing as a method to create artistic pieces. However, the silk screen method is what the pop genre revolves around and the influences of the silk screen can be found in the manufactured elements of today’s abstract art. Before Andy Warhol, pop art lacked a defining medium but Warhol brought the silk screen to center stage as style of choice.
Not only did Warhol define pop art’s medium, he also was the first to use art as a way to critique current society. While Warhol is certainly not the first to use his art to convey a greater message, he was the first to use art as a way to express his thoughts about current society. This perhaps is the greatest attribute of pop art because it enabled artists to express their own opinions about current events. Without Warhol, art would lack the intensely opinionated and topical pieces that dominate today’s art scene. Artists today create work that not only contains aesthetic appeal, but they also use their work to challenge the viewer to find the opinions of the artist creating the work. Even after his death, Warhol’s legacy lives on through his endowment that has put over twenty million dollars into the advancement of visual arts and also through other artists who have been inspired by his quirky yet visionary style.
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