Friday, September 28, 2012

Warhol's Soup Cans

I am listening to a podcast about an event in the art world 50 years ago. That being the day when Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup can paintings first were exhibited in an LA art gallery.

I do not want to rehash the story, it has already been written to death. What amused me were the words of one elderly art critic who was part of the scene at the time and, clearly of the old school, went so far as to blame Andy Warhol for changing all that was "good" about art and taking the value and structure out of it, ushering in an era when "anyone could call themselves an artist" and it would be ok.

I have to laugh at the audacity of that statement. To look at the era of abstract expressionism that was dominating the art scene at that time and to read some of the lofty praise thrown about, even going so far as to compare some of the gallery works to artistic acts of "shamanism". . . is just as ridiculous to me.

Do not get me wrong. Jackson Pollock is among my favorite painters of all time. Though Willem de Kooning is not.  Yet many see them both as almost one and the same.  They bantered back and forth about who was the greatest artist of their time, often in very choreographed and rehearsed dialogues and then, out of the blue, were affronted when someone upstaged them and the art world was turned upside down.

What seems clear to me is that the establishment of the art world did not like that it's end time, as with all great empires,  came too soon.  It has rarely been suggested that perhaps the changing times meant the public simply grew tired of the reign of artistic elitism and the same rehashing of lines, geometry and colors that people later accused Warhol of in his pop work. 

If anything, it seems to me that he exposed the art world for the frail, hulking skeleton it was.

Just as I , as a child, feared the 4 story tall T-Rex skeleton at the Carnegie museum in Pittsburgh. . . even knowing it was just old bones, it's size, stature and ferocity overwhelmed me. As the art word did, and still can do,  to many.

I cannot disagree with the critic's dismay with the word "artist" being so easily thrown about. It has become increasingly annoying, not solely because of it's own rampant and nonchalant use, but because there is usually little explanation beneathe the word to give it meaning for each individual.  While this is not necessarily a discredit or disservice to other 'artists" it IS a discredit to the individual using the word so loosely.

There are skills that accompany any working profession. The profession or pursuit of an artist is no different. I do believe that everyone has creative miracles within them but often the vagueness of the word, in it's context, is what makes it so for the person who calls themselves an artist.

A "laborer" is another common term of similar ilk. It does describe a large general swath of the work force. But, there are hundreds of jobs under that cloak, each with it's own varied skill set, that are worth taking pride in.

And I DO see art, in any form, as a labor.
Not a high and holy calling that deserves lofty praise.
A simple and austere blue collar path.  
One that requires a lifetime of patience, investment and spirited input

I call myself a maker-of-things
I work in polymer clay, paint and miniature scales.
I go to work on my art EVERY day
Though unlike the artists of DeKooning's era, I do not sit around drab bars at night and espouse my genius and my soul searching, gut wrenching art.  I have no interest in that bullshit.

As a child of the 80's I felt far more in touch with Warhol. His creations were more immediate than the art I found in many galleries and high art publications.  It was, if I had to choose one word, accessible. And that, in my own opinion, is what all great art should be. 

Looking back 50 years, I believe Andy Warhol opened doors for future generations in many ways.
If not in the elitist art world which, though no longer an intimidating  T Rex, does still thrive and exist, then in the world that came to realize that it is the viewer, and only the viewer, who truly determines the worth of any object.

There should be no turning back the hands of time
I applaud the abstract artists for their time as I do Warhol for his. 
This then, is a new time
A new world of art is created every single day

And as another icon of the pop era said, quoting a 19th century poet:

We are the music makers
And we are the dreamers of dreams. . .


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