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Key Concepts : Art is Ordinary

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The United Kingdom’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, defines culture as an economic resource. Their position is that human creativity is essential, in contrast to the old world view that science, industry and culture are considered distinct. In fact, continuing to categorize human creativity is considered a serious barrier to progress in business, social regeneration and in the arts. “In the era of creative economy, art is ordinary, and there is essentially no difference between the creativity of the entrepreneur, the scientist and the artist” (creativeclusters.com). This means that creative individuals must work to unleash their creative pursuits by rejecting existing categories and paradigms to pursue new ways of thinking and working. In this model, entrepreneurial and technical skills become essential in the arts and traditional arts skills become critical in business.

“All this means that the role of the artist is changing. The artist is no longer a peculiar outsider, with a magical gift that the state or the rich must protect. Artistic creativity is an ordinary human activity. Playing a musical instrument, writing, making a film—these are specialisms and as with any specialism it’s hard work and some people will be better than others. But creative skill is not magic. It can be taught and learnt.”

(creativeclusters.com)

Do you think art is ordinary? Right now in Fort Collins (through September 25), you have a great opportunity to contemplate this question! In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, CSU’s University Art Museum received a gift of photographs by the legendary Pop artist Andy Warhol and you can see them along with borrowed examples of his Flower paintings (based on photographs of hibiscus blossoms). Andy Warhol’s art has become such a big part of US visual culture, that today it is easy to ignore how “out of the ordinary” it would have looked when he first created it. Did you know that Warhol used commercial fluorescent paints—not the oil paints that artists were “supposed” to use? His images and ways of making ordinary objects into graphic statements have become so much a part of our visual language that knock-off examples surround us in stores, advertising and interiors. For example, for a price online, you can upload your own photo image, have it transformed into a punchy, brightly colored, Warhol-like canvas, and hang it in your home.

Andy Warhol signing soup can in Fort Collins, 1981, Photo from CSU Library

Andy Warhol signing soup can in Fort Collins, 1981, Photo from CSU Library

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was born “Andrew Warhola,” to Slovakian immigrant parents. He was good at drawing and painting when he was young and later studied at what is now Carnegie Mellon University, continuing onto a career in magazine illustration and advertising. His sensibility for repetition and photo images grew out of mimicking mass advertising.

In the 1960s, when “fine art” and “commercial art” were still considered absolutely distinct categories in a hierarchy of creative expression, Warhol made paintings of famous American products like Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles. Later, he made silkscreen prints of products in order to not only make art about mass produced items but to actually mass produce art. He hired and supervised “art workers” to make prints, shoes, films, and other items at his studio, The Factory in New York City, which became the meeting place for a wide range of artists. Think Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, Truman Capote, Debbie Harry and The Velvet Underground for example. Warhol and other Pop artists challenged established ideas of art—including whether “fine art” could be mechanically reproduced. Ironically, Warhol’s work is now housed in established museums and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is the largest American art museum dedicated to a single artist! Do you think that debate has been won?

Moreover, long before the “Superstar,” reality television and internet fame possibilities of today, Warhol believed that the media could make any person famous in a cycle of disposable celebrity. He was especially drawn to the images of people in publicity stills and newspapers and to their stories of personal tragedy. He modified photo images to create iconic paintings of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and others. However, when he “sampled” a photograph from Modern Photography Magazine, the photographer sued. After that, Warhol took thousands of his own photographs, becoming a prolific photographer to create his own source material, although evidence of this process has not been widely exhibited. Did you know that Warhol often used an ordinary Polaroid camera to photograph friends, who like him, were also celebrities? Don’t miss your opportunity to see examples of how art is ordinary and learn more about Warhol right here in Fort Collins, at CSU’s University Art Museum.

While you are there, think about the relationships between photographer, model, and image. Our understandings of these 3 components of photography reveal much about our cultural definitions of art, artist, and creativity. Is art really ordinary? If art is ordinary, is art education basic to being educated? Where do art and process connect/disconnect? Should art be integrated into life, and everyday life into art?

Who gets to make art? What do you think? We look forward to hearing from you!

Read about Denver-based photographer Mark Sink’s relationship to Warhol—Andy Warhol was his hero.

Read about Warhol’s visit to Fort Collins in 1981.

Read memories of Warhol’s visit to Fort Collins.

The Fort Collins Museum and More Meetup Group

Thanks for the photo estaticist!

Art for all!

Deborah Lombard