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Andy Warhol and the Celebrity Culture

Updated on September 25, 2015

Andy Warhol

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Pop Art

In the 1960s, the art world was rapidly changing, as some artists rejected the popularity of abstract expressionism. Pop art emerged as certain artists, like Donald Judd, brought a cool and knowing irony to art that was foreign to abstract expressionist artists such as Willem de Kooning.

These Pop and Minimal artists did not want to be considered second generation and they dismissed the idea of abstract expressionist work as being too messy, personal and sentimental.[1]

Pop art was a movement influenced by the mass media, advertising, comics and consumer products. It began in Britain in the 1950s and was joined by American artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. The most well know Pop artist, Andy Warhol, made his way into the Pop art movement in the 1960s.[2]

His art left a permanent and lasting impression on society due to its commentary and reflection on consumerism and obsession with the rich and famous. To this day his Pop art creations continue to shine as some of his greatest work.

Campbell's Soup Cans

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Mass Production in Art

Andy Warhol first began his work with paintings of Coke bottles and comic strips, but it was not until he started creating paintings of Campbell's soup cans that he gained some recognition within the art world.[3]

Andy wanted to produce paintings faster as his creative ideas were flowing more rapidly than his artistic methods could keep up with. He moved on to theprocess of silk-screening. The method of silk-screen painting creates a very precise and defined image and allows the artist to mass-produce a large number of prints with relative ease.[4]

Not long after picking up this style of painting, Warhol began using photographic silk-screen to create celebrity portraits. Andy was very much interested in the current trends and celebrity news. From a young age he bought and read teen magazines and tabloids to keep up with what was considered popular at the time.

Even as an adult, Andy was fascinated by the rich and famous. He carried this interest into his artwork by creating iconic paintings of mega-stars such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. He appropriated images for his portrait artwork from magazines, newspapers and sometimes from publicity photographs. With his newly adopted method of mass producing his artwork using the silk-screen process,

Andy Warhol was able to make images of movie stars that were themselves mass produced. For instance, celebrities such as Elvis Presley existed not only as a flesh-and-blood person but also as millions of pictures in newspapers, magazines, on album covers and in the movies. Elvis and these stars were infinitely reproducible.[5]

Coca-Cola 210 Bottles by Andy Warhol

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Elvis I and II

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Marilyn Monroe

The silk-screen portraits of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe became some of Warhol's most recognized works. He would create several images of Marilyn Monroe in different colors. The most interesting thing about the colors chosen by Andy Warhol, were that they were not representational.

In Pop art, colors were not used to depict the artist's inner sensation of the world, but to represent and refer to popular culture. Andy Warhol describes his artistic process with the face of Marilyn as such:

“In August 62 I started doing silkscreens. I wanted something stronger that gave more of an assembly line effect. With silk-screening you pick a photograph, blow it up, transfer it in glue onto silk, and then roll ink across it so the ink goes through the silk but not through the glue. That way you get the same image, slightly different each time. It was all so simple quick and chancy. I was thrilled with it.”[6]

After Marilyn Monroe committed suicide, Andy Warhol made a silk-screen painting of her titled Gold Marilyn Monroe in 1962. It his most famous portrait of her and it is currently located in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He painted the canvas an iridescent gold and silk-screened the star's face in the center of the composition.

In duplicating a photograph known to millions, Warhol undermined the uniqueness and authenticity characteristic of traditional portraiture. He presented Marilyn Monroe as an infinitely reproducible image.

Gold Marilyn Monroe

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Richard Lloyd Discusses Warhol's Marilyn Monroe Prints

The Power and Destruction of a Celebrity

Curator Anne Umland of the Museum of Modern Art, explains that the image of Marilyn was based on a pose, a photograph used for publicity purposes for the film Niagara in 1953.

She comments that when one looks at the Gold Marilyn Monroe up close, there are all sorts of smudges, blurs and imperfections that speak of Marilyn lost to the world. Her image in no longer immediate. Her eye shadow sorts of slides down a little bit into her eyes and the lipstick seems to be a little bit off-register. Everything is slipping, slipping away.[7]

Warhol painted Marilyn Monroe because she was the typical icon of the glamorous women. Every portrait he completed was of her or any glamorous woman was in the same format. This included emphasis on lipstick, eye shadow and the frozen camera smile. He wanted to portray Marilyn as the contemporary sex goddess, packaged for the public as a consumer item. Warhol used a wide range of colors and off the registrar printing to show variations on the image.[8]

One example of this style can be noted in the Marilyn Diptych. The left hand panel of the work is a crudely colored photograph of the actress whose sense of self is degraded through the repetition of her image.

The right hand panel is a physically degraded black and white image. This degrading or fading away of the image is created as the printing ink runs out on the silkscreen. It was purposefully done to reflect the ephemeral qualities of fame.

The combination of the panels are a memorable commentary on the nature of being a celebrity and its power to both create and destroy its acquaintances.[9]

Arne Glimcher Speaks on Warhol's "Marilyn Diptych"

Marilyn Diptych

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Embracing American Culture

Through the 1960s Andy Warhol continued with his silk-screen paintings as they were a huge hit within the art world. His paintings were primarily aimed at getting the viewer to look at something for longer than they otherwise would.

Instead of just taking a simple glimpse at another celebrity photograph, Andy wanted people to see more than that. By doing this he blurred the difference between high art, like abstract expressionism, and low art which is what Pop art was.[10]

Andy wanted people to see that abstraction was not the only method in which to convey deep meaning. A reproduced image could convey a thousand words and leave an audience pondering just as long and just the same as an abstract piece might do.

His devotion to the aesthetic of television, society columns, and fan magazines was opposed to the European model of the struggling avant-garde artist which the abstract expressionist had emulated.

Warhol wanted wealth and fame, and he found anybody who had them fascinating. The originality of Andy's denial of originality defined his artistic persona. The fresh look of his paintings and numerous artworks validated that as Andy attempted to define his existence entirely on the shallow plan of representation in reproducible images.

Part of Andy Warhol's genius lay in his recognition that a persona could be communicated via the media better than any art object.[11]


In summary, Warhol embodied the American spirit of popular culture. He used second-hand images of celebrities and consumer products, which he believed had an intrinsic cliché that made them more interesting, and elevated its imagery to the status of museum art.

Andy felt that celebrities had been stripped of their meaning and emotional presence through their mass-exposure. Warhol was fascinated by this banality which he celebrated in a series of subjects ranging from celebrities to soup cans. He saw this aesthetic of mass-production as a reflection of contemporary American culture. It was through his works that Andy Warhol attempted to reflect on the consumerist nature of American society.[12]

Celebrities and fame, to Andy, were considered the height of modern consumerism. He was often quoted saying, 的n the future every person will be famous for fifteen minutes.[13]

From the early sixties until his death in 1987 Warhol cunningly exploited both style and the media. In doing so, he exposed the values of contemporary society with a subversive frankness. He demonstrated that fame is equally and essentially meaningless in the world of interchangeable images.[14]

Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482)

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Citatations

[1] Mark Stevens. “Change Agent.” Smithsonian, October 2011, 80.

[2] Andy Warhol (C.T Evans and K Schilling, 22 April 2010): online, Internet, 18 October 2011. Available: http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/evans/his135/Events/Warhol/index.html

[3] Andy Warhol (C.T Evans and K Schilling, 22 April 2010): online, Internet, 18 October 2011. Available: http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/evans/his135/Events/Warhol/index.html

[4] AWM: Educational Curriculum (The Andy Warhol Museum, 2006-2009): online, Internet, 18 October 2011. Available: http://edu.warhol.org/aract_icons.html

[5] AWM: Educational Curriculum (The Andy Warhol Museum, 2006-2009): online, Internet, 18 October 2011. Available: http://edu.warhol.org/aract_icons.html

[6] Webexhibits: Color Vision and Art (U.S Department of Education): online, Internet, 18 October 2011. Available: http://www.webexhibits.org/colorart/marilyns.html

[7] MoMA The Museum of Modern Art (The Museum of Modern Art, 2010): online, Internet, 18 October 2011. Available: http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79737

[8] Andy Warhol's Celebrity Portraits: online, Internet, 18 October 2011. Available: http://puffin.creighton.edu/museums/archive/7_abarnett/page2.htm

[9] Pop Art: The Art of Popular Culture (The Art Factory, 2011): online, Internet, 18 October 2011. Available: http://artfactory.com/art_appreciation/art_movements/pop_art.htm

[10] Andy Warhol (C.T Evans and K Schilling, 22 April 2010): online, Internet, 18 October 2011. Available: http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/evans/his135/Events/Warhol/index.html

[11] Jonathan David Fineberg. Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, 3rd ed. (Boston; Prentice Hall, 2011): 240

[12] Pop Art: The Art of Popular Culture (The Art Factory, 2011): online, Internet, 18 October 2011. Available: http://artfactory.com/art_appreciation/art_movements/pop_art.htm

[13] Andy Warhol (C.T Evans and K Schilling, 22 April 2010): online, Internet, 18 October 2011. Available: http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/evans/his135/Events/Warhol/index.html

[14] Jonathan David Fineberg. Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, 3rd ed. (Boston; Prentice Hall, 2011): 241

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