Even twenty-four years after his death, Andy Warhol is a well-known name in the world of art and fashion. His most famous works are his Campbell's Soup can paintings and silk screen prints of Marilyn Monroe. Warhol also fathered the term “super star” and is responsible for modern phenomena such as celebrity tabloid magazines and reality television. But was Andy Warhol an artist? Or was he an insult to the very term? After researching the man born Andrew Warhola, I have to lean towards the latter.
Andy Warhol actually did start out creative and original with his work. Before his rebirth in 1962, Warhol was an illustrator and a designer of fashion and business logos. He started drawing in his early childhood and graduated from art school that his father had saved money for despite the family's extreme poverty (so extreme that his mother often made soup from water and ketchup). In fact, at age twenty-seven, Warhol was making $100,000 a year with his designs and illustrations. In the 1950's this was an impressive amount of money. However, this financial success was not enough for him.
In the 1960's, Warhol exchanged the shabby wardrobe that earned him the nickname “Raggedy Andy” for a more fashionable means of dress. He referred to his new outfits as “Andy Suits” and donned various wigs to match them. While there's no harm in a change of appearance, Warhol used these “costumes” to play different roles and to draw attention to himself. Along with his new look, Warhol adopted an “aloof” and “mysterious” personality.
This was also when Warhol's work began to slide downwards. Though his Campbell's Soup paintings (originally thought to be a joke by many) and Coke bottle painting were at least completely his own effort by his own hand, the same can't be said for his silk screen prints of various celebrities. These were re-prints of photos that he did not take himself – only colored over. Warhol even admitted that his work was not original and said that he copied because it was “easy to do”. Aside from this, Warhol would not explain his work.
While Andy Warhol claimed to hate the “modern” art movement with it's paint splatters and extreme abstractions, was his work really that different from it? His work may have actually resembled something, but recycling images and designs from fashion, brands, and grocery store items was hardly creative. Scribbling color onto black-and-white photos was not making something new and original. To him high art was just a brand, and Warhol himself said that “department stores [are] the new museums”. His style is so cheap, in fact, that you can “Warhol-ize” photos of yourself with various internet programs.
So, while Andrew Warhola may have started out an artist brimming with creativity and putting forth genuine effort into his works, that was not how he ended. Warhol became a tool of the industry and killed the artist inside himself for a shallow life and lazy means of becoming famous. He brought the spotlight from works produced with great effort to those that are common and easily copied, lacking in meaning. Thanks to Warhol, attention is more important than hard work, and for an artist this is truly unforgivable.
Sources: BBC Documentary on Andy Warhol, official Andy Warhol website