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Andy Warhol: The Images of Classical Antiquity Just Don't Know Where They Are Going

Updated on September 11, 2016
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Pop Art and the New Gods and Kings of Modern Art

Was Andy Warhol a shaman or a charlatan? This is a question one critic put forth when examining the life's work of the legendary and visionary pop artist.

This question can be answered with another, very curt, question: does it really matter? As long as Warhol's work is something you enjoy looking at, then it has achieved its goal. This is really all that Warhol wanted out of his audience. He was not a person prone to self-importance and he generally viewed his own work from a perspective of ''what you see is what you get'' simplicity.

Ironically, this approach contributed greatly to the growth of a very revolutionary, influential, and frequently misunderstood modern art movement: pop art.

The Birth of Warhol the Pop Artists

Pop art is dismissed for the obvious reason. Celebrating images from television programs, movies, and the supermarket seems outright odd to some. Honestly, pop art influences follow similar natural outgrowths that traditional art movements did.

The origins of Warhol's involvement with the pop art movement really has no epic tale associated with it. When Warhol began his career as an artist, he started by painting subjects that appealed to him. Selecting Campbell Soup Cans as the subject matter of a work of art can be called innocuous to the point of ridiculous. Warhol did like Campbell Soup though.

Around the time of Warhol's emergence to prominence, the pomposity of the artists on the NYC scene generally weighed down of a lot of their work. Actually, the same could be said of artists that came long before and long after Warhol. They suffer from the sins of being self-centered and self-indulgent. Artists see themselves as more important than their art and the finished works show it. Worst yet, artists with these attitudes go against all effective approaches of gaining longstanding recognition.

Art movements have a tendency to emerge organically out of the time period in which they are born. Quality artwork will maintain a relevancy to its times. Poor quality art will always come off as a contrived attempt to be something special, shocking, intellectual, brave, daring or what ever adjective you wish to use that avoids using the most correct adjective: boring. Art movements that are forced in their motivation really are not motivated at all. At best, they can be flash in the pans and gain some notoriety but they ultimately fade away and are mercifully forgotten.

''Everyone is famous for 15 minutes'' if they can produce shock art that draws quick and immediate attention. Do you really want to just be famous for 15 minutes?

Simple, Ordinary and Shocking

Warhol's material, while seemingly trite in its subject matter, was powerful in its motivations. Not that that was ever the plan.

At its core, you could say that Warhol's work was a silly idea. Maybe it was, but it really resonated with a lot of people in the art world that probably found the mundane nature of Warhol's work to be refreshing. At the very least, they knew what exactly his subject matter was. It definitely was neither surreal or abstract. Rather, it followed the classical notion of recreating known and distinct images.

Warhol's work truly was shocking mainly because it was so mundane. That really was the irony of what he was producing. And to an extent, he was producing art as opposed to creating it. Warhol never hid the fact that he wanted to make as much money as he could with his artwork and other endeavors.

While no one would ever suggest that Warhol's lifework was trivial. It was not. In fact, his approach truly did have the proverbial finger on the pulse of what many truly believed. This was clear in his path to presenting new gods and kings in his artwork.

The New Gods and Kings

This was a somewhat sly understanding that the subjects of classical gods and kings throughout antiquity were considered contemporary at the times of their creation. During the Renaissance period, classical images were given a rebirth of sorts when they were used as subject in some very legendary works.

Warhol threw much of this on its ear when he created a movement that was equals parts a mockery of the imagery of classical gods and kings and the next step in the natural evolution of the process. The gods and kings of the 1960s were not Zeus and none of the 12 Caesars meant very much to modern sensibilities. And truthfully, they had not meant very much for thousands of years to the average person. The modern superstars were John F. Kennedy and Marylin Monroe. Figures such as these were selected by Warhol as replacements for the classical figures of antiquity. Hovering between the blasphemous and the logical, images such as these did strike a chord with the public and it could be argued that Warhol became more accepted in the world of pop culture realm than so many of his contemporary fellow artists that really never gained much notoriety outside of art gallery circles.

A Human Facet

One of the unique aspects to Warhol's presentation of modern heroes and legends is they were not always presented in a flattering manner. Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, Mohammad Ali, and Richard Nixon, among others, had a tendency to be portrayed in somewhat less than flattering images. In a way, these deities of pop culture were made very, very human in their presentations. This really should not be consider all that radical of a presentation. They are, after all, human beings.

Was Andy Warhol's contributions to the world of pop art a clever con job. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn't. For his fans and followers, it does not really matter.

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Other Works:

The Nature Of Abstract Art Criticism and Dismissals

To Be Experienced and Not Watched: The Cinema of Federico Fellini Films

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