What Would Andy Say?

I liked to listen for NEW WAYS to say old things and OLD WAYS to say new things.

: Andy Warhol (1980), Popism: The Warhol Sixties

It’s natural to wonder what Andy Warhol would have thought about “social media” if he were alive today. He made his name selling Pop Art and using “new media.” I found this YouTube clip of him “painting” a portrait of Debbie Harry on at an Amiga computer launch event (“new media” by 80s standards):

I am slowly becoming an Andy Warhol fan. His influence helped establish Pop Art as an art form and then bring it into the mainstream as a lifestyle. Pop Art represented the paradigm shift in consumerism as described in the opening section of What’s Mine is Yours. It acknowledged the subtle social and economic policies at work to get us to buy more. Shopping went from a necessity to become a hobby then an art form and through Andy Warhol a lifestyle and social movement.

I quote that “McDonald’s is beautiful” line from his book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, every time the conversation turns to gentrification and the displacement of the poor (and even sometimes  when it doesn’t) —

The most beautiful thing in Tokyo is McDonald’s.

The most beautiful thing is Stockholm is McDonald’s.

The most beautiful thing in Florence is McDonald’s.

Peking and Moscow don’t have anything beautiful yet.

The Keep Weaving Words blog has a short post about the bastardization of Andy’s famous “fifteen minutes of fame” comment. The writer feels that some people are taking liberties with the quote that diminish its original meaning. She explains that Andy intended the quote to describe the fleeting nature of fame but bastardizations of it like “everyone will be famous to fifteen people” ignore the original intent to describe duration in favor of a description of reach. But I wonder if Andy would have done the same, if he were around today? Would he have altered the quote himself, if he were around today?

I think he would’ve.

I think Andy would have changed the quote himself if he were alive today. From what I’ve read about him (in his own words and in those of others), he liked to talk and listen to othersjust talk” (gossip to be specific). Social media vehicles – especially ones that can be seen as frivolous – might have attracted Andy’s attention or even garnered his endorsement simply because they improve access to “just talk” and gossip. I think Andy would have found the “art” in Facebook and Twitter.

His detractors describe him as aloof and a puppet master. I liken him to an anthropologist studying  the Yanomamo or a psychologist like Piaget studying the cognitive development of children. The former is a better analogy than the latter because I don’t want to imply that Andy was in any way more “mature” or “superior” than the people he studied.

I include the latter because I saw this picture in a text book once of Piaget conducting one of his behavorial experiments on an infant. The child’s mother sat on one side of the room with the baby on the other side. All the baby was expected to do was to crawl over to the mother. But that floor that separated mother and child was made of clear glass and from the baby’s perspective it would have looked as if he would fall into space should he attempt to cross over to his mother.

This is how I see Andy and his Factory, the space he created for people to gather, form relationships, and then risk falling into space to reach each other. It was one big social experiment – an interactive art installation – where theories about human nature were tested and a “social art form” was born. In addition to turning consumerism into an art form, he also turned socializing into one.

Pop was everywhere – that was the thing about it, most people still took it for granted, whereas we were dazzled by it – to us it was the new Art. Once you “got” Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.

: Andy again (1980), Popism: The Warhol Sixties

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