In his self-explanatorily titled article, Andy Warhol: The Artist as Machine, Bergin perceives Warhol as a machine – as opposed to human – which he attributes to Warhol’s own painstaking efforts to indistinguishably tie himself to his work. Warhol did this by keeping away from the public life (Lanchner 4). This represents what Schroeder explores as the relationship between the artist and the brand, and indeed Warhol made himself into a brand (1291). Bergin posits that, “For all intents and purposes, the image is Andy Warhol” (359). But the question arises: what was that image? Besides, a brand is associated with certain perceivable– consciously or subconsciously – traits and features. To Bergin, the common theme in Warhol’s art, that is, brand, is an “emphasis upon a stylized exterior and the lack of concern for anything other than the obvious” (359). However, the true nature of the so-called ‘stylized exterior’ has remained elusive. Warhol himself resisted the bait (during interviews) to interpret his own work, which was eclectic and unpredictable. The point made by all these is the implacability of Warhol’s works, and this is in fact the nature of Pop arts, of which Warhol was/is a key figure, a major influence for the movement in the decades that have followed.
Warhol and Pop Art
Selvin attempts to examine the nature of Pop Art. He focuses on the reasons that led to the rise of this new art movement, as well as the elements that characterize the works of this movement. The risk with such an endeavor is that there are different approaches to and practices of Pop art, which makes it hard to describe in any clear terms. However, there is a basic understanding of Pop Art. Selvin tries to find this common theme in the views of several critics (1). These include: Max Kozloff speaks of “no focus, no selectiveness;” G. R. Swenson sees the new movement as something that “cannot be understood through formulas or some conventional pattern of visual grammar one or more remove from experience;” Peter Selz sees the Pop artist as responding “specifically to his visual environment;” and Barbara Rose perceives Pop artists as “linked only through subject matter [rather than]… stylistic similarities” (Selvin 1-2). The message derived from all these quotations is the understanding of Pop Art as impulsive, with the immediate context as the inspiring stimuli, which is the reason that it is indefinable.
In all of these quotes, there is a lack of concrete wording for what Pop art really is. Bergin aptly describes Pop art as intellectually imprecise (359). The only certainty with Pop art, therefore, is its unpredictability. In those terms, Warhol and his works remain elusive to-date, three decades after his death. He seemed intent to run away from the world, to refuse to be defined in certain particular terms. He did all kinds of artworks (paintings, film, textual production, among others), refusing to be called any one kind of artist (Otty 1). He also explicitly refused to interpret his work, letting the work interpret itself, and for the audience to experience the underlying theme whichever way they chose. For instance, even amidst the bad reception of his Campbell Soup Cans (1962), Warhol remained silent, resisting the possible temptation to nudge the audience towards the acceptance of his work. Pop Art was a form of resistance, an emphasis on oneself rather than the collective. This is how many felt in Warhol’s time, which makes Pop Art an appropriate art for the generation, and Warhol an artist for his time.
Critical Analysis of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, Gold Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor Portrait
Campbell’s Soup Cans: This consisted of 32 paintings of the so-called Campbell’s Soup Cans. All the cans were exactly the same in physical look, but the names of the soups were different (Johnson 1). The work was first exhibited in 1962, and the reception was a mixture of “mockery and indifference” (McCorquodale 1). The work was in fact considered a flop, until Irving Blum (the owner of the Los Angeles’ Ferrus Gallery) figured that the pieces needed to be placed together as part of the same piece. Only then did the audience start to see the statement that it was speaking of the then-spirit of America, particularly the time’s consumerist culture (Bolton 7; McCorquodale 1).
‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’, Andy Warhol (1962)
Warhol makes this statement using two devices. The first, understood as the Warhol’s ‘doctrine,’ is the reproduction (repetitiveness) of the subject (Bergin 359). It is the ‘machine’ side of Warhol (Bergin 359). There are dimensions to the machine side of Warhol. In one dimension, the machine is Warhol himself. In this respect, Warhol overzealously protects his private life, and by doing that he separates himself from any context in which he could be seen as a mortal man. Like a machine, therefore, he is without a background story. Bergin notes that, “Warhol apparently would prefer not to be thought of as a man with a past… but as a unique entity… who sprang into existence fully grown to do his work and who will someday vanish just as abruptly and mysteriously” (359). To what extent this dimension is apparent in this work is not clear. However, the work reveals the repetitiveness of a machine, which is an exhibit of Warhol’s methodical and mechanical way of working (McCorquodale 1). Indeed, the repetitiveness of the Campbell’s Soup Cans is the way of machine. He works methodically, almost as if he is not conscious of what he is doing – merely reproducing without thought. This is, however, only a surface interpretation. There is an ultimate underlying meaning in all this, and as noted, Campbell’s Soup Cans is a statement about consumerism (McCorquodale 1-2).
Indeed, Warhol, intentionally or unintentionally, is a social commentator concerned with the issues of his time. Schroeder, in line with this premise, perceives Warhol as a “consumer researcher” (476). In this regard, Warhol is understood as the provider of – through his diverse works – insights into consumer culture; these insights are consistent with many findings of the existing consumer research. Warhol notes that the ‘image’ is a statement of the symbols of consumerist culture, particularly the “harsh impersonal and brash materialistic objects upon which America is built today” (Schroeder 476). This seems to be the key underlying theme in Campbell’s Soup Cans, the rather exhausting repetitiveness of the cans implying the ‘I want, I want, I want…’ nature of consumerism.
Gold Marilyn Monroe: Otty reflects on the “dynamics of absence and presence” in Warhol’s works (1). This can be understood at the surface level as fascination with the physical space. Warhol writes about this fascination, “When I look at things, I always see the space they occupy. I always want the space to reappear, to make a comeback” (Otty 5). Implicit in this quote is the figurative aspect of this fascination, as something that is to be reclaimed from the current occupier. Indeed, Warhol’s works can be said to break boundaries, and in this respect scrambling to take up ‘space’ for self-realization and identity. This is evident in Gold Marilyn Monroe, among others.
Otty describes this as a “large rectangular canvas covered with reflective gold paint and featuring a small, centrally positioned image of Marilyn Monroe” (3). The standout aspect of this work – and others in the series – is the silk-screen printing, which is a stencil-like process in which paint is applied to an image through a screen. In doing this, however, Warhol seemed to mock the traditional understanding of artistic skill. The question here is what aspect of the final work can be attributed to the artist. In this case, for instance, Warhol notes that his assistants actually did the work – albeit at his direction. That is, Warhol did not rely on a direct touch of his work. The assistants and the technology (of photography) seem to create space between the artist and his work to the point that the work can be produced despite the artist’s absence. Warhol, therefore, claims himself to be both the physical and figurative space. The latter focuses on the significance of the monochrome in relation to the known conventions of art. According to Otty, the monochrome represented a devaluation and inversion of representation, and in this case, Warhol uses it to transcend artistic representation’s ideological function (4). Ultimately, the resultant image – in terms of space – is paradoxical: it represents both the blankness and occupation of space. The image of Monroe is both there, but also not there.
‘Marilyn Monroe’, Andy Warhol (1962)
Elizabeth Taylor (Warhol 1962): In his The Artist and the Brand, Schroeder argues that greater awareness of the relationships between visual art traditions and conventions, as well as the production and consumption of images, can significantly enhance an artist’s ability to understand branding as a practice of strategic significance (1291). The article focuses on two dimensions: how the artist uses his/her craft for branding and how the artist manipulates their image to become a brand. Andy Warhol did both. However, more than as a commentator on brands and consumer culture – for which Schroeder, in another article, refers to him as a consumer researcher”– Warhol was the best example of “artist as brand” (Schroeder 1292). This, however, does not diminish his place as a brand creator and promoter, especially as a “consumer researcher” (Schroeder 476).
‘Liz’, Andy Warhol (1965)
The Elizabeth Taylor painting was part of the same series as Marilyn Monroe’s portrait. Like the Marilyn Monroe portrait, the Elizabeth Taylor portrait brings Warhol’s theme of machine product to a logical conclusion (Bergin 361). In this regard, it is people that become machine products and commercial property. In this case, Warhol utilized a photograph of a living person, photography itself being technology. But he went beyond that to create an additional veil through which to view Elizabeth Taylor. Particularly, in this case, he turned Elizabeth Taylor into a work of art to be admired as such, and also something that could be reproduced over and over. Simply, like Monroe in the painting above, Elizabeth Taylor becomes a product – or at least her image. With constant repetition, accompanied by the right wording, this image becomes a pervasive presence in people’s spaces and minds. Indeed this pervasive presence (intrusion) into people’s lives is how brands are created. According to Schroeder, Warhol demonstrates the power of mass production, as well as the infinite possibilities of production, that is, the regurgitation of the same object to make it different (1294). Warhol also demonstrated the disconnect between image and lived experience” (Schroeder 1294). This implies one of the puzzling aspects of brands; that is, their ability to influence decisions despite the fact that its value may be largely intangible (such as prestige). In fact, brands seem to work because of this disconnect; the intentional/unintentional choice of its market to assume the truth. Warhol puts to practice his understanding of the relationships between visual art conventions and the public’s consumption of images to enhance the value of branding. His Campbell’s Soup Cans, for instance, significantly improved the popularity of the brand. His celebrity endorsements – such as Marilyn Monroe’s and Elizabeth Taylor’s portraits – were important promotional platforms for the celebrities.
Schroeder considers Warhol an in important figure in the creation of branding as it is today (476). Particularly, Schroeder believes that Warhol contributed towards the understanding of consumer behavior, which informs the key elements of branding today: brand equity; clothing, fashion and beauty; imagery; packaging; and self-concept (481). Indeed, these elements are key to the various aspects of marketing today, including segmentation and positioning, among others.
Three decades after his death, Warhol remains an influential figure in not just the art world, but also the commercial world. Indeed, he was a success at both, becoming an acclaimed artist, as well as a big brand in his own person, which gave him great wealth. This influence is tied to his part in helping launch what has become popular as Pop art. The true boundaries of this movement remain elusive. In fact, elusiveness and unpredictability of Pop art seem to be some of the aspects that people agree on. Mostly, it is understood as impulsive, driven by deeper instincts, that is, psyche rather than a conscious effort to meet certain conventions of artistic expression. Warhol, both as a person and through his works, embodied these aspects of Pop art. Warhol’s way of working demonstrates the same impulsive tendencies that are known to characterize Pop Art. The premise here is Pop Art involves an inward look – an attention to one’s own instincts – rather than the outward world, in this case represented by the traditional conventions of art. In Warhol’s case, his works embody his personal ambitions to be a major brand in his own right, as well as his attempts to claim his own space. The three of his works examined, that is, Campbell’s Soup Cans, Gold Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor Portrait, embody some of the features of his work (as Pop art) such as repetitiveness, commodification of elements that are traditionally not considered consumable commodities (such as people), and ultimately the brand and branding, among several other implicit themes. These are the features that have informed Pop art. Warhol laid the foundation for the current crop of Pop artists, but the world is yet to see any of his students take up his space. Again, Warhol claims his space despite being absent.
Bergin, Paul. ‘Andy Warhol: The Artist as Machine.’Art Journal. 26.4 (1967): 359-363.
Bolton, Linda. Artistes in their Time: Andy Warhol. Connecticut: Franklin Watts. 2002.
Johnson, Ken. ‘Review: A 60s View of Warhol’s Soup Cans, at MoMA. The New York Times. 2015. www.nytimes.com/2015/05/08/arts/design/review-a-60s-view-of-warhols-soup-cans-at-moma.html.Accessed 10, Feb.2018.
Lanchner, Carolyn. Andy Warhol. New York: The Museum of Modern Art. 2008.
McCorquodale, Sara. ‘How Warhol’s Work Influenced our Wardrobes.’BBC: Culture. 2015. http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150427-soup-cans-that-changed-fashionAccessed 10, Feb.2018.
Otty, Lisa. ‘The No Man Show: Technology and the Extension of Presence in the Work of Andy Warhol.’ eSharp: Borders and Boundaries, 5. (N.d): 1-13.
Schroeder, Jonathan E. ‘Andy Warhol: Consumer Researcher.’ Advances in Consumer Research, 24 (1997): 476-482.
Schroeder, Jonathan E. ‘The Artist and the Brand.’ European Journal of Marketing. Vol. 39, No. 11/12 (2005): 1291-1305.
Selvin, Erdem. ‘The Analysis of Pop Art: Content, Subject Matter, Style, and Form.’((2016). 10.13140/RG.2.1.4782.5047.
Spencer, Catherine. ‘Why Andy Warhol Still Surprises, 30 Years After His Death.’ Independent.2017. www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/andy-warhol-pop-art-30-year-anniversary-time-capsules-the-factory-a7592816.html.Accessed 10, Feb.2018.