Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Andy Warhol, Killer of Art? / Small Books, Big Ideas

I ran across this article from Intelligent Life Magazine, "A One-Man Market" by Bryan Appleyard that leads with the following staggering statistic: "Andy Warhol is an art-world colossus whose work accounts for one-sixth of contemporary-art sales. How did that happen, and is he really worth it?"

Of the Andy Warhol Foundation's role in the creation and preservation of the Warhol "bubble" the article states:

“'The problem is', says Georgina Adam, 'that the foundation wants Andy Warhol to be a high artist with high ideals, they want him to be like Leonardo da Vinci. They don’t want to think that he just signed a lot of stuff without even looking at it, but he did.'”

My personal opinion is that Warhol's work is highly overrated. Yes, he was an icon and a celebrity, and influenced many artists, but was his influence a good thing? Was it the end of the notion of mastery, depth and emotion in art? When you put aside Warhol's very public life and get down to his work, I find it too easy, superficial and vacuous. I expect more from art.

Here's a video I posted last year of art critic Robert Hughes chatting with billionaire collector Alberto Mugrabi. Hughes very easily reduces Mugrabi to babbling inanities about why Warhol and Richard Prince are great artists. Hughes makes a great case for contemporary art suffering from The Emperor's New Clothes.

Willem de Kooning is purported to have shouted to Warhol across the room at a party: "You're a killer of art, you're a killer of beauty, and you're even a killer of laughter." What do you think?

Click here to rank Andy Warhol's work on a scale of one to ten.

Click here to see the survey results.

Small Books, Big Ideas

I’ve had to use great restraint not to order more than a handful of the 50+ titles available in Wooden Books’ handsomely designed, lavishly illustrated main series. Tagged as “Small Books, Big Ideas,” each of the 6” x 7” volumes has exactly 64 pages. One-page chapters are illustrated with a veritable cornucopia of black and white reproductions of engravings, drawings, graphs and charts. For now, I’ve narrowed it down to two titles that I think will be of special interest to you as artists and art-lovers: Perspective and Other Optical Illusions, and The Golden Section.

Perspective and Other Optical Illusions
by Phoebe McNaughton

Author Phoebe McNaughton begins her small volume with a brief history of classical perspective -- man’s attempt to create the illusion of a three dimensional world on a two dimensional plane. From ancient Egypt to the Renaissance, from one-point, two-point, and five-point perspective, to orthographic and oblique projections, McNaughton lays out the basics.

Etchings from Albrecht Durer's Underweysung series illustrate the use of drawing machines from the 16th century, machines that utilized grids and glass to help artists better imitate perceived reality. Chinese paintings from the 13th and 17th centuries illustrate atmospheric perspective. We see how a pinhole camera obscura, used by Vermeer and others, projects perfect reverse images onto a darkened wall.

McNaughton then moves on to optical illusions, things that trick the eye. Prints by Dutch artist M.C. Escher are used to illustrate renderings of impossible objects, figure and ground flipping and rotational perspective. There are diagrams that seem to move and swirl, a stereogram that magically turns into a 3-D image if you align the dots and stare “through” it, as well as depictions of rainbows, moon bows, haloes and glories.
Relativity, by M. C. Escher. Lithograph, 1953.

McNaughton goes on to pose philosophical questions about the nature of reality. Synesthesia, auras and chakras are all touched upon as examples of unusual ways of perceiving reality. Plato's cave is sited.

You won't be bored by this little book -- you'll return to it time after time, as a refresher course in perspective, as a jumping off point for philosophical reflection, or for the pure pleasure of looking at the illustrations.

Click here to buy from

The Golden Section: Nature's Greatest Secret by Scott Olsen

Author Scott Olsen opens The Golden Section: Nature's Greatest Secret with a promise:

"If you are willing to proceed step by step through this compact little book, it will be well nigh impossible not to grasp by the end a satisfying and stunning glimpse, if not deeply provocative insight, into Nature's Greatest Secret."

With that promise, Olsen takes us on a voyage of discovery that starts with the earliest references to the golden section by Plato and Pythagorus to the nature of consciousness itself:

"It is possible then that consciousness may reside in the geometry itself, in the golden ratios of DNA, microtubules, and clathrins. . . Clathrins, located at the tips of microtubules, are truncated icosahedra, abuzz with golden ratios. Perhaps they are the geometric jewels seen near the mouths of serpents by shamans in deep sacramental states of consciousness."

You'll learn about the numerical expression of the golden section through a simple series of whole numbers, commonly referred to as the Fibonacci Sequence:

"Although officially recognized later, the series appears to have been known to the ancient Egyptians and their Greek students. Ultimately Edouard Lucas in the 19th century named the series after Leonardo of Pisa [c. 1170-1250], also known as Fibonacci (son of the bull), who made the series famous through his solution of a problem regarding the breeding of rabbits over a year's time. . . Fibonacci numbers occur in the family trees of bees, stock market patterns, hurricane clouds, self-organizing DNA nucleotides, and in chemistry."

From Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's Libri tres de occulta philosophia.

You'll see the golden section at work in classic works of art such as DaVinci's The Annunciation, Van Gogh's The Beach, Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Salvador Dali's Sacrament of the Last Supper. We see examples of the golden section found in music, philosophy, science and mathematics and more.

Author Olsen delivers on his promise with this lavishly illustrated, accessible guide to the golden section and its presence in the world around us.

Click here to buy from


  1. I remember going to Pittsburgh and while there I visited the Andy Warhol Museum. A friend asked, "How was it?" I responded, "I liked it for 15 minutes."

    Kenny Schneider

  2. That's like saying that the illusion of depth and a specific aesthetic is the only way art can be. I find Andy Warhol's work very emotional and a huge statement about the state of art as well as society.

  3. I am a huge fan of Warhol. Not so much that it has incredible merit for it's technical aspects but most assuredly because it makes one ponder. Art for me has to stir up controversy and he most certainly achieved that status.

  4. killer of art? that's a little harsh, don't you think? I agree with you Jane, he's not my favorite artist and I don't find his work very interesting in the end, but he's certainly an artist who deserves more than that description.

  5. Thanks for the link to the excellent Appleyard article. Really enjoyed it and agree with every word. I've always felt this way but couldn't ever explain or define it so well. The Hughes interview is also entertaining. However, I didn't 'rank' Warhol, as I feel it's complicated, even though his work doesn't speak to me, the fact that he had so much influence on the artworld makes it difficult to dismiss his work.

  6. I think Warhol shook up the art world along the same lines as Duchamp--ordinary images elevated to art status because the artist said so, and ultimately because the critics and historians said so, albeit many decades later. Warhol's extensive repetitions had the same nullifying effect on concepts of beauty and creativity and emotion in art as Duchamp's urinal. Which is not to say it isn't art, but rather that he forced us, as provacative artists do, to view art in a different light, maybe even a negative light.

  7. have a nice day!

  8. Thanks for posting that fascinating article. The Warhol phenomenon is especially interesting because he directly influenced some of the currently most successful artists- Koons, Murakami, Hirst and Prince. Since those artists' reputations, to a large degree, depend on the art world's perception of Warhol, the kind of revisionism Appleyard describes at the end of the article seems unlikely. Too many collectors have vested interests in this work now.
    Personally, I can't help but agree with the assessment that Warhol's serious work ended in 1968. When his retrospective was at MOCA, the earlier work seemed radical, the later just commercial. I loved the deKooning quote, "You're a killer of art!". I just saw de Kooning's retrospective at MOMA in New York. He reminded me of how great art can be. One can't help but think that Warhol's enormous influence has had a negative effect on today's art.