When Andy Warhol emerged onto the art scene, he challenged the way the art world thought about art. He was one of the moving forces behind a new art genre that became known as pop art. While this form of art is intimately related to the cultural experimentation of the 1960s, it is also regarded as one the most important art movements of the 20th century.
Commercial vs. Highbrow Art
As one of the leading artists of the 20th century, Andy Warhol's original intention was to pursue a career as a commercial artist after graduating in 1949 with a fine arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University. After considerable success as a commercial illustrator working with Glamour magazine and advertising agencies, Warhol incorporated much of what he learned about the world of consumer culture and mass production into his art, which blurred the line between commercial art and highbrow or serious art. His art is concerned with the transient, expendable and mass-produced objects that people encounter in their everyday experience, which represented a significant departure from the themes and values of traditional art that focused on such eternal truths as beauty.
The Series Paintings
Well known for his series paintings, Warhol created multiple images of the same object -- brand-name soup cans, soda bottles and celebrities -- with only slight variations between them. When creating this images, Warhol wanted to distinguish his work from Roy Lichtenstein, who like Warhol, gathered inspiration from advertising and comic strips. Warhol scored his first major art show in 1962 in Los Angeles with the “Campbell Soup Can” series. Warhol used a silk screening technique to produce 32 different images of a Campbell soup can. The only distinguishing characteristic between the images was the flavor listed on the label.
Critique of Celebration
As a representation of American culture, Warhol's pop art caused a sensation by focusing on everyday objects, but fame and celebrity were equally important themes in his work. Warhol viewed celebrity -- even though it is substantially different from such everyday objects as soup cans -- as a mass-produced product. Viewed as both a champion and as a social critic of consumer culture, Warhol deliberately cultivated a sense of ambiguity about his artistic intentions that reflects his aesthetic sensibility. This ambiguity opened the door for multiple interpretations and perspectives rather than one definitive truth
While Warhol's pop art challenged the barriers between art and nonart in terms of subject matter, it also challenged the media used to make art as well. Warhol worked with a variety of media including painting, photography, silk screening, sculpture and filmmaking. His interest in exploring various media was motivated by a desire to breakdown boundaries that traditionally separated artistic media from nonartistic media. In a similar vein, Warhol stressed that art making was not limited to specific tools or media, citing that innovative artists were only limited by their ideas and imagination. Warhol officially retired from painting in 1965 to experiment with other artistic media, such as filmmaking. Although originally neglected by critics, Warhol is now considered as a significant 1960s filmmaker.
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