When my room mate at the rehabilitation home I've been staying in, recuperating during the past week from a spastic back, asked me the question, "Is Andy Warhol really considered an artist?" there was a moment of stunned silence. Since I was missing my painting convention and was vocal about missing it, art has been a topic of conversation here all week. This question was a surprise however. He then mentioned the Marilyn Monroe prints and Campbell's Soup cans. And to be honest, I have had my doubts too.
As I struggled to come up with an explanation, I suddenly realized that artists like Warhol and David Hockney, Jackson Pollack and so many others are a product of their generation. Just like Leonardo and Michelangelo, the Impressionists, the Hudson River School. These artists joined together with a similar type of subject and while their artistic styles were often different, they all seemed to share a vision of a subject they all agreed upon and liked. And in the 60's it was a kind of avant gard that won the day. (As a matter of fact, Peter Max is making a comeback! Talk about a blast from the past!).
If you go to a museum with a variety of impressionist artists, and have any art knowledge at all, you will recognize each ones style. What binds them together though is their willingness to show common people going about their ordinary lives. City and street scenes were what was seen everyday, life was portrayed as it was, not some perfect vision that at first glance, heroic or not looked like a photograph. In fact the impressionists painted their "impression"of something and were often considered a reaction to photography. If you wanted something exactly as it appeared, take a photograph... in those days a chore worthy of painting.
Once that bridge between realism and impressions was crossed, the way was opened for abstract art which took what an artist felt to new paradigms. The battle over what is and is not art has never ceased. So, while the paradigm has changed, the grouping of artists and styles has not.
So finally my answer was yes, Warhol was an artist as his art was a reflection of commercialism and how it invaded our everyday lives. He was far ahead of his time because he realized it wasn't just a Campbell's soup can, Brillo pads and such, but that commercialism had extended to certain people. In its own way, it was brilliant. It showed the world as it was. The same kind of vision of their (50's to 70's) world as the Impressionists had of theirs. Who would ever doubt that today the cult of the individual is as commercial as any product hawked on TV? If you doubt that, watch the Oscars.
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