Andy Warhol is a supernova in the art world and the poster boy for pop art. He introduced the concept of fifteen minutes of fame to the world, made Edie Sedgewick famous for being famous ( a pre cursor to Paris Hilton, but with a little more class) and founded Interview magazine. He’s consistently used as a cultural reference and if you don’t know much about him, here’s your chance.
I’m doing a five-week free, online course with Coursera about Andy Warhol. I think a healthy knowledge of art history is essential to understanding modern culture and its influences. It forms our cultural background which underpins fashion, film, design and of course, art. I am loving the more intelligent, cultural tone that both Vogue Australia and Porter magazine are taking these days and the fact that the cultural messages and influences in fashion, entertainment and art are being privileged in an intelligent and engaging way. I’ve heard that Vogue Italia is the most intellectual of the Vogue family, however my Italian is not that good (yet).
I’ve always like the idea of art but admit I have struggled to get into it, a lot of the time. I read a great article in Porter recently about a Brazilian artist who said that art is meant to provoke questions, but not provide answers. Her words have given me a new appreciate of art and a stronger desire to fill in the blanks in my knowledge. Or some of them, at least. I am already familiar with Andy Warhol, through general knowledge, the Warhol exhibition held at GOMA a few years ago and the film Factory Girl.
Coursera is an amazing website full of free, online courses from the world’s leading institutions. I’ve started a course on Roman Architecture from Yale and enrolled in other courses from more countries than I can count. Everything from maths, to history, to sociology, to globalisation, business and global aid is covered. I challenge you to find not a single topic you’re interested in.
You can go at your own pace and if you complete the assessment you get a certificate of completion. There is no penalty for not completing a course, so I tend to dip into different courses and participate for as long as I am able to, before I get swept off my feet by work. If you want, you can pay to get an official certificate that actually counts for something, which involves more work and evidence that you actually completed the course work yourself, etc.
Each week’s lecture is broken into succinct 5-10 minute videos covering a very specific topic. I love this, because I can squeeze bits in to different parts of my day. I also struggle to watch a lecture for an hour, so breaking it up is a blessing.
In the first week’s lectures, I began to understand why Warhol’s bold style caused such a fuss. These days, it is hard for Modern Art to surprise us. When Warhol’s art emerged, the world was enamoured with the divine technical talent of the artist, but he swiftly turned this notion on its head by taking existing images from advertising and press releases (ie. Marilyn Monroe and the Campbell’s soup tin) and turning them into art. When you can step into the shoes of the mid century mind and narrow your frame of reference to a selection of artistic styles, you can begin to see just why Warhol mattered so much.
The first week talks about Warhol and celebrity, how he began as a star struck boy taking clippings of famous faces and turning them into his art, to a celebrity in his own right who’d have the rich and famous calling so he could take their picture. A curator mentions a notebook they found, where he’d have his messages taken, which shows a recording of Jacqueline Kennedy leaving a message for him. Naturally, Edie Sedgewick garners a few mentions in these lectures.
The most interesting part of this week’s lectures was about his 457 screen tests. In the fashion of a Hollywood screen test, it would be a simple, rolling shot of an individual in front of a camera. Unlike Hollywood, Warhol would set the camera rolling and often walk away, posing a challenge for the subject to remain interesting without any stimulus. Some thrived and their magnanimous presence shone through. Others, such as Salvidor Dali, were noticeably struggling. He used film as another way to express the core of his artistic work – portraiture. Each screen test was very casual and lasted up to three minutes. As a collection it is like an eccentric yearbook of the downtown New York art scene in the 1960s. Actors, artists, poets, opera queens, the wealthy, celebrities, factory staff and anonymous people plucked off the street were granted their own three-minute spotlight.
The screen tests allow Warhol to not only play the ethnographer, but reflect on himself. It reminds me of what Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray “
“every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.”
The collection of individuals shows the breadth of his friendships, relationships in his personal and professional life, his fascination with beauty, personality and talent and his eye for curating a diverse and interesting network of acquaintances.
Week Two has just begun, so I haven’t watched any lectures yet! This week’s topic is sex.