Andy Warhol, Yale Press-Style

Yale University Press celebrated Andy Warhol’s birthday earlier this month by trying out The Andy Warhol Museum’s D.I.Y. POP app on our staff. The app takes its inspiration from what Arthur C. Danto calls “the Warhol aesthetic” in his Andy Warhol, part of YUP’s Icons of America series. Warhol was the only Pop Art artist to use the technique of repeating the same image, and it is that repetition that keeps him so prominently in our cultural memory today. The first and probably best known of his repetition work are his silk-screens of Campbell’s Soup cans. But as Danto reveals, for Campbell’s Soup Cans, Warhol did not initially plan on keeping all the individual images together after he painted them. Although he originally thought of the paintings as a “series” and even designed them in a grid format, each “can” was to be sold individually until Warhol’s dealer decided they should be sold as a set. Eventually, Warhol made serial paintings of Marilyn Monroe, Coca-Cola bottles, Elvis, paper money, and other easily recognizable icons from American culture.

Warhol is “the” artist of the Pop Art movement, although there were others who worked with similarly identifiable images. By the mid-twentieth century, Pop Art was well-developed, and art historians now consider it a linchpin between Modernism and Postmodernism. American critics initially rejected the new style because “[i]t was widely felt that important painting had to be difficult” to understand. (As opposed to European critics, who almost immediately respected it for its political, revolutionary nature.) Far from being difficult, Warhol’s “subject matter is always something that the ordinary American can understand.” He adapted the commonplace to high art, making art in general more accessible to the public. Although reviewers may have had a hard time comprehending him, he found fans in people from every sphere.

His audience no longer came to his work wondering what the painting was about, as they had with the previous major art movement, Abstract Expressionism. Instead, people wanted to know why he chose a certain subject. Danto’s answer is that Pop Art strives to show or “paint who we are” exactly as we are. Its radical goal soon energized not just the art community but American society as a whole. The young people of the 1960, for example, were more connected to Pop Art than generations before them had been to art created in their time. They reacted to Warhol like they did to the Beatles, stampeding into galleries to catch a glimpse of the celebrity-artist. They felt Pop Art was “their” art, which seems to makes a create-your-own Warhol app even more appropriate.

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