#Warhol #Myth #Icon #archetype
How can a soup tin and a celebrity become an icon in the Pop Art world?POP ART caught fire in the early 1960’s in New York where artists such as Andy Warhol worked. This artist drew upon the surrounding popular culture for his inspiration and subject matter. Commonplace objects such as soup tins, Brillo boxes and comic book characters such as Mickey Mouse and Superman, filled his work. The crisp lines and bright colours were a real departure from the darker soul searching of the abstract expressionist art which had preceded it. Through his creative spirit, this subject matter was elevated to iconic works of art.
But is a soup tin painted by Andy Warhol really ART? To this question, I can already hear the quite reasonable accusation, “So, you’re an art snob!” According to Pop Art there is or should be no distinction between high and low brow art.
No, I’m not looking down my nose at any form of art. And—there’s certainly no question in my mind that Warhol’s work is ART. But I’m curious how his art was transformed into icons.
Before going further, I have to ask what an icon is. For me, an icon is almost artificial. It’s a representation of something more than or other than just itself. An icon points to something else, perhaps an idea or constellation of emotions. Is an icon the same as a symbol? I don’t think it really matters and so I’ll just talk about them as one and the same.
When I look at an icon, I react to it on an almost visceral and subconscious level likely because it triggers powerful associations within me about something more than the object itself.
Although a crucifix might have a great effect on one person, it might leave another cold. Same with a flag which might mean one thing to a person and quite another to his neighbour. To have that much “punch” surely the icon must represent or contain far more than its superficial appearance suggests. It sounds like a great contrast—between the deeply significant and the superficial. And maybe that’s the magic of Pop Art.
When I look at his painted and silk-screened soup tins and Brillo boxes, I see a representation of all of western culture—the good, the bad and the ugly. Thoughts of consumerism, mindless over-consumption and the so-called superficiality of life in the west, might occur.There are a multitude of messages “hidden” in the “simple” image. And that message could create endless dimensions of thought playing out in one viewer’s mind but not another’s.
A Warhol soup tin is not just any old soup tin. It’s not like an actual tin or a photograph of it on a grocery shelf or in an ad. So what is it? Whatever Warhol added to [or subtracted from] that soup tin, I suppose is that part of himself which makes the art and his commentary on the “thing” depicted.
When the viewer enters the gallery, the exchange between the artist and the viewer begins.
If the art is iconic, it contains an object which represents something else. That “something else” may be rich with a multitude of meanings for the artist and hopefully for the viewer. Also, the artist has added his own thoughts, feelings and emotions into the creation. Now the art work contains an object which represents something else plus the artist’s response to that object. What do the viewers contribute? Jung might well say that an icon would provoke our projections of whatever thoughts, beliefs and emotions within us that the object triggers. That’s our contribution.
For example, there are millions of crucifixes in the world and artistic representations of them. A painting of Christ on the cross is rich in meaning for many. For devout Christians it may represent the belief in redemption from sin. Others might interpret it as a representation of the tree of life and the tree of knowledge being the knowledge of good and evil.
As the mythologist, Joseph Campbell might say—a Muslim, Jew or Hindu would argue that a crucifix represents, at best, a charming myth because someone else’s religion is so often called a myth. Not being qualified to write about theological matters, I’ll simply say that such an icon can evoke any number of extremely powerful thoughts, feelings and emotions in any number of people. Or–none at all.
How can this idea be applied to a silk-screened soup tin? I suppose the soup tin represents all that needs to be [or can be] said about western consumerism and over-consumption. Yet it is so attractive we want to buy a case! Personally, although I find the soup can art attractive, it does not trigger a cascade of deep and intelligent reflection or speculation within me about western culture.
But Pop art is supposed to be “cool”. Perhaps my lack of responsiveness can be justified on that basis. After all, the artist, Warhol, seems detached and unaffected. On the other hand someone else might find himself in a fierce debate over soup tins with his fellow gallery-goer.
From his work, it’s easy to conclude that Warhol is almost obsessed with the idea of celebrity which was really just about ready to explode in the early 1960’s. His famous celebrities represent something important.
I feel on safer ground with the images of Marilyn Monroe. They represent the dream-goddess, the archetype of sex and feminine allure. All who study Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell will talk at length about the power of the archetype which may rise up and literally seize us by the throat. Millions would respond at least in some unconscious way.
What other archetypes are triggered in his work? The image of John Wayne calls forth the archetype of masculinity. The portrait next to it is of Sigmund Freud. Perhaps it beckons the archetype of wisdom but I’m more taken by Warhol’s insightful interpretation expressed by casting the sharply angled shadow across his face. Michael Jackson’s portrait is next. What archetype does it evoke? It makes me think of the puer eternis, the grown man who always remains a child. Of course, you saw the Elvis portrait. The rebel comes to mind.
I hope that you will leave a comment about what archetypes you think are expressed in these portraits.
Another fascinating question? It seems as if Warhol, maker of icons, became an icon himself. Many close friends and associates thought Warhol’s personality changed dramatically from an open and vulnerable youth to a “cool”withdrawn individual who really expressed no emotion or personality. That change occurred quite suddenly as his fame and celebrity sky-rocketed. I imagine that he became the picture of himself—more and more sphinx-like.
When I think of this relationship of the artist to his work I can’t help but think of Oscar Wilde’s novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” The resemblance between the photos of Warhol, his self portrait and the picture of Dorian Gray is breathe taking if not downright scary! How odd the relationship between the artist and his creations can be! Perhaps an artist should distance himself from his work–at least for a time!
If you enjoy this sort of musing about life and art, perhaps you might like to read the novels of The Trilogy of Remembrance. You can get your print of download versions from the carousel below and meet two very different sorts of artists, Alexander Wainwright, a landscape painter and Rinaldo, the conceptual artist. The carousels below have all the novels on the Amazon shelves but you can obtain any of them anywhere online.
I love your comments so please give me your ideas on what archetypes, if any, the paintings of celebrities call up to you. And, as always, write about anything that comes to mind. The space is unlimited. And by the way, please don’t forget to sign up for the blog.
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing. Presently, The Drawing Lesson is a Wattpad Featured novel which you can read in its entirety right here Wattpad.com