Thursday, February 09, 2012

Andy Warhol: The Artist as Philosopher or Businessman?

“My assertion at one point that Warhol was closest to a philosophical genius of any twentieth-century artist very nearly cost me Robert[] [Motherwell’s] friendship, and he pointed out to me that Warhol rarely said more in front of a painting than ‘Wow.’ But that of course is just my point: the philosophy was in and through the work, and not in what was said in front of the work. There is in my view a great deal in Hegel’s belief that art and philosophy are deeply affined—that they are, in his heavy idiom, two moments of Absolute Spirit. The wonder of Warhol is that he did philosophy as art, in the sense that he defined false boundaries by crossing them. Since no philosopher of art in 1964 recognized the kind of problems Warhol raised, he could not have had a philosophical language in which to explain it. So, perhaps, ‘Wow.’ [….] Since at least Warhol’s exhibition of Brillo (and other) cartons at the Stable Gallery on East 74th Street in Manhattan in the spring of 1964, I have felt him to possess a philosophical intelligence of an intoxicatingly high order. He could not touch anything without at the same time touching the very boundaries of thought, at the very least thought about art. [….] Indeed, I believe it was among Warhol’s chief contributions to the history of art that he brought artistic practice to a level of philosophical self-consciousness never before attained.”—Arthur C. Danto

“For Warhol all art is commercial, which says more about the power of commerce than it does about the power of art. It took little more than half a century to undo Kandinsky’s idea that art was the last bastion of spirituality against materialism. [….] The artist was once thought of as sacred—he had a spark of God’s creativity in him—but Warhol’s artist is a businessman, profaning everything sacred and creative by putting a price on it, as Marx said. [….] Warhol’s art exploits the aura of glamor that surrounds material and social success, ignoring its existential costs. His art lacks existential depth; it is a social system with no existential resonance. ‘If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.’ This consumate statesman of postmodern nihilism suggests the reason that art has lost faith in itself: it has lost emotional and existential depth, and sees no reason to have any. [....] Some interpreters have thought Warhol was deliberately cynical, or at least ironical, but I think his seductive equation of money and art—not to say permanent confusion of their terms—was dead serious and honest. It is ruthlessly cool, in a world where ‘coolness’ is the aesthetic…. Cool is the way to be both indifferent to commerce and commercial at the same time.”—Donald Kuspit

Images: By Lucian Freud and Andy Warhol respectively.


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