Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Warhol and Lichtenstein

I picked up some Warhol books from the library yesterday. Andy Warhol, A Retrospective is an overview of his art and influences. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B and Back Again) is a potpourri of insights and observations on everything, from the Warhol perspective. When I was looking at it last night it reminded me of Jack Handy, a weird wrinkled way of looking at the world. I noticed also, based on a photo in The Life & Death of Andy Warhol, that he died at age 58, the age I will be in a few weeks.

What led me to pick up the Warhol books was an article on Roy Lichtenstein that I had seen recently. Lichtenstein was a pop artist who produced large reproductions of comic book panels or paintings in that comic book style. Both he and Warhol, with those soup cans, had emerged big time on the New York art scene in the 60's. As an early 70's art student I was put off by both. I took my inspiration from painters, from Picasso and Matisse to Dali and Magritte. Even Duchamp, who abandoned painting altogether, was at least philosophically stimulating. The pop art movement didn't get me, or rather, I didn't get it.

A half century later I believe I was half right. Even though Lichtenstein continues to be praised, I just don't get into his work. He coined a style and I think the style silly. I would love to discover that in some private part of his life he was actually painting landscapes or tigers and that these comic book blow ups were just what he did for a living because a few rich people were willing to pay him a small fortune to do it.

Lichtenstein is referenced in the book 501 Great Artists, "a comprehensive guide to "the giants of the art world." And this Urban Monarch page called him one of five artists you should know about. But why? Who decided this stuff was great art?

Warhol, on the other hand, might be one of the most influential artists of the second half of the 20th century. Can most people even name an artist from that period? Paula Rego? Giovanni Anselmo? Donald Judd? Claes Oldenburg? O.K., most people have probably seen an Oldenburg sculpture, but probably don't know his name. I liked David Hockney's paintings, and Rauschenburg's innovations, but these talented guys have never transcended the art scene have they?

Warhol's work, on the other hand, bled across all barriers so that his most basic observation about fifteen minutes of fame is as well known as a line from Shakespeare. Warhol himself was a work of art, his persona crafted. "Oh, that's interesting." But his process of mass reproduction (via screen printing) enabled collectors all over the world to have a piece of his action.

Whether you like the man himself, or his values, his genius for self-promotion and his understanding of the culture are both undisputed. Hence his cult status in many circles. Was his art really a joke? I don't think so, even if much of what he said comes across that way.

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