For many people, 20th Century art history begins and ends with the work of Andy Warhol. The artist’s most popular images now grace everything from the walls of world-class museums to coffee mugs and t-shirts, and whether they support or reject his ideas, no contemporary artist can honestly say that their work is not influenced to some degree by Warhol’s worldview. Love him or hate him, here are just a few of how Andy Warhol irrevocably changed the philosophy of modern art.
Warhol Understood the Influence of Big Business on Western Sensibilities
To a large extent, artists have always had an uneasy relationship with society’s most powerful figures and patrons. In Renaissance Italy, for example, painters and sculptors earned their living by portraying prominent members of banking dynasties such as the Medici family in a flattering light, and many earned their daily bread in the employ of powerful figures within the then-dominant Catholic Church.
In Warhol’s time, however, giant corporations and media conglomerates had unseated the once-powerful dynastic ruling families and religious leaders central to pre-modern Europe’s ruling class. Accordingly, Warhol’s muses became the pop-culture figures thrust upon the American psyche by huge corporate interests: Doing away with portraits of popes and kings, in other words, Warhol single-handedly decided that Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley were now subjected fit for high art. The world has not been the same since.
Warhol Turned Mass Production Into an Art Form
Before the 20th Century, most businesses was conducted on a small scale between individual merchants and buyers. If a person wanted to buy clothing, they paid a visit to a local tailor; if they wanted a beer, they’d go to their local public house for a homemade brew. In the wake of mass-market capitalism, however, a culture based on small-scale mercantile exchange changed into one centered around massive production quotas and worldwide market domination.
Warhol’s work mimicked this societal shift into capitalistic overdrive by linking mass-production methods to traditional art practice: In Warhol’s hands, in other words, Da Vinci’s paintbrushes were replaced with industrial silk-screening tools. Nothing in the art world has been the same since.
Warhol Satirized Our Obsession with Celebrity Culture
Throughout his artistic career, Warhol retained many of the working class sensibilities ingrained in him by his blue-collar upbringing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To a young Warhol, celebrity culture reflected a glamorous lifestyle out of reach to most Pittsburgh families; later in life, the artist flipped this relationship on its ear. His paintings of cultural icons like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley both satirize and celebrate our obsession with celebrities; were he alive today, there is little doubt that the artist would chuckle at the amount of headline space we currently devote to the Kardashians and Kanye of contemporary society.
With his groundbreaking approach to artistic practice, Andy Warhol defined the cultural landscape of the modern world in a revolutionary new way. His work has earned him supporters and critics in equal measure, of course, but to art aficionados, the cultural legacy of Andy Warhol is unrivaled in its scope and prescience. Presaging the world we live in, Andy Warhol’s artwork isn’t likely to fade from memory anytime soon.