IWhat do you really know about Andy Warhol? Why and how do you know his name? Even if you’ve not read any of the numerous biographies of his life, you probably know he painted Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe. But you’ve been misled on purpose because these really aren’t paintings at all. Someone on Warhol’s team dreamed up the name, “direct painting medium” to deceive you into not realizing these works are photomechancial prints of photographs Warhol didn’t take himself.
Painting implies easels, brushes, careful or careless color choices, and time. These PMTs were an early manual form of today’s photoshop, and that perhaps is an innovation. And the result has an aesthetic whether you like it or not. So I concede it may actually be art, just not the art you thought it was. Gerard Melanga, who led the PMT team at Warhol’s factory during the ’60s, revealed the Warhol “deception” long ago, in a 1974 interview given to the publication Gay Sunshine. “Andy’s whole trip was that he wanted something for nothing. Andy used what was available simply because he had no intellectual power or capacity with which to embrace art, there was nothing intellectual about the art except what some art critic wanted to read into it merely to sound intelligent.” Seemingly forever unmentioned are the source creators who made Warhol’s art possible in the first place. In this case, Gene Korman was the original photographer of the Marilyn Monroe publicity photograph that Warhol used. Neither Warhol nor an artist he allowed to appropriate Marilyn, Elaine Sturtevant, ever credited Korman. And the Soup Cans? The source photograph was made by Edward Wallowitch. It’s as if the theft is ok and even artful, as long as the original creator is unmentioned.
This has its analogy in corporate generated art such as advertising. Unsigned by it’s actual human creator, there is no soul to it. There is nothing at its core except the machine. Yet it demands to be taken seriously, to be treated equally. This insistence over time has triggered a subtle dehumanization process, now visible, bringing us perilously close to an era where a majority of humans may not care if it is an AI-machine that makes the advert, the art or the novel. It’s been a slow grinding down and here we are. You could argue no. Insist that Warhol is a great artist because he thought of the “idea”. But what if it wasn’t even his idea? What if you knew prolific novelist Muriel Roberta Latow gave Warhol the idea for the Soup Cans during a brainstorming dinner. What if you knew Warhol’s friends at the Serendipity Cafe suggested he make a Marilyn picture? Is this really your idea of a true artist, one deserving of being the #1 exhibited artist in the world every year for at least the past decade? Were you to sit at your computer and colorize someone else’s photograph, does that make you an artist? Perhaps yes. In America, judges have ruled that if you substantially transform any image, you are now the recognized artist and creator. But what if someone told you exactly which image to colorize? To make it bigger? To remove the wrinkles? Are you still a genuine artist? It’s all much less than our ideal of the artist working alone, the individual with a vivid and unique imagination, with his or her own talents and style derived over time. As an artist who knows other artists, that indeed is how it has been. Even when others collaborate with us, the idea, the vision, that spark of life, somehow, originates within us.
Sean Peter is the author of AntiWarhol, a dark and detailed deconstruction of the Warholian mythos. https://antiwarhol.com