Andy Warhol Demystified: Four Videos Explain His Groundbreaking Art and Its Cultural Impact

We all have a few images to associate with Andy Warhol — Campbell's soup cans, colorized Marilyns and duplicated Elvises, that wig — and also a few words, usually something to the effect of everyone in the future being famous for fifteen minutes. Now that we seem nearly to have arrived in that future, we might well wonder what else Warhol understood about our world. But we can't know that until we have a clearer sense of just what he was up to, and these four short primers offer a solid start on grasping the whole Warholian project. Just above, Alain de Botton's School of Life introduces Warhol as "the most glamorous figure of 20th century art" whose great achievement was to "develop a generous and helpful view of two major forces in modern society: commerce and celebrity."

"We spend too much of our life wanting something better and extraordinary," says de Botton. "Andy Warhol aims to remedy this by getting us to look again at things in everyday life" — the soup cans stacked up at the grocery store, for instance. Warhol's work also reveals an understanding of glamor and prestige, ever more powerful forces in the 20th century in which he lived as well as ones that, in his view, "needed to be redistributed in such a way that society could work better."

His dual interests in art and changing the world in an unprecedentedly industrial age led him to mass production: "He wanted to translate the things he cared about, like sensitivity, a love of glamor and spectacle, and playfulness into objects and experiences that could touch many people" — as many people and as often, ideally, as Coca-Cola.

But does what Warhol did quite count as art? Khan Academy founder Sal Khan and its Co-Dean of Art and History Steven Zucker get into that question in their Smarthistory video on the silkscreened soup cans from the early 1960s. On one hand, the cans exemplify what Zucker calls "one of the central ideas of modern art," that you can "take something that's not necessarily based in technical skill" and relocate it so as to make us "think about it in a different way." But on the other, Khan says, if Warhol had made them half a century earlier, "people would have thought, 'This guy's a quack,'" and if he did it now, "they would think he was just derivative." Was it really "just that time where people happened to think this was art?"

Certainly there can be no separating Warhol from his time. He asked, as Zucker puts it, "What is it about our culture that is really authentic and important?" The answer, as he saw it, "was about mass production, it was about factory." No coincidence, then, that he named his New York studio "The Factory," nor that he displayed a great fascination with industry and commerce in all its forms. He started his career as a commercial illustrator, but ultimately, "instead of making art for advertisements, he started making advertisements as art." Those words come from the Art Assignment video above, which makes "the case for Andy Warhol," whose work, says host Sarah Urist Green, "charts the development of our obsession with fame and questions the growing commercialization and uniformity of most areas of American life."

Warhol wasn't just an artist, Green says, "but also a filmmaker, band manager, magazine publisher, and TV producer who fearlessly explored and embraced new media." Writing a diet book was perhaps the only way Warhol didn't tap into the American zeitgeist, but perhaps, as demonstrated in the longer Art Assignment video called "Eat Like Andy Warhol" above, that task is best left to his scholars. In it Green and company work through "a tasting menu that explores Warhol's life through the food he depicted as well as the food he actually ate." It includes not just Campbell's soup and Coca-Cola but frozen hot chocolate, a banana (remember, he gave Velvet Underground their start), diet pills (now known as amphetamines), and perhaps most Warholian of all, something listed only as "cake." It's a diet fit for what Green describes as "the ultimate producer and consumer and product all in one" — as well as an artist who both defined and embodied 20th-century America.

Related Content:

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When Steve Jobs Taught Andy Warhol to Make Art on the Very First Macintosh (1984)

Andy Warhol Digitally Paints Debbie Harry with the Amiga 1000 Computer (1985)

Warhol’s Cinema: A Mirror for the Sixties (1989)

When Andy Warhol Made a Batman Superhero Movie (1964)

Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes: Discover the Postmodern MTV Variety Show That Made Warhol a Star in the Television Age (1985-87)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

How Carl Jung Inspired the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous

There may be as many doors into Alcoholics Anonymous in the 21st century as there are people who walk through them—from every world religion to no religion. The “international mutual-aid fellowship” has had “a significant and long-term effect on the culture of the United States,” writes Worcester State University professor of psychology Charles Fox at Aeon. Indeed, its influence is global. From its inception in 1935, A.A. has represented an “enormously popular therapy, and a testament to the interdisciplinary nature of health and wellness.”

A.A. has also represented, at least culturally, a remarkable synthesis of behavioral science and spirituality that translates into scores of different languages, beliefs, and practices. Or at least that’s the way it can appear from browsing the scores of books on A.A.’s 12-Steps and Buddhism, Yoga, Catholicism, Judaism, Indigenous faith traditions, shamanist practices, Stoicism, secular humanism, and, of course, psychology.

Historically, and often in practice, however, the (non)organization of worldwide fellowships has represented a much narrower tradition, inherited from the evangelical (small “e”) Christian Oxford Group, or as A.A. founder Bill Wilson called them, “the ‘O.G.’” Wilson credits the Oxford Group for the methodology of A.A.: “their large emphasis upon the principles of self-survey, confession, restitution, and the giving of oneself in service to others.”

The Oxford Group’s theology, though qualified and tempered, also made its way into many of A.A.’s basic principles. But for the recovery group's genesis, Wilson cites a more secular authority, Carl Jung. The famous Swiss psychiatrist took a keen interest in alcoholism in the 1920s. Wilson wrote to Jung in 1961 to express his “great appreciation” for his efforts. “A certain conversation you once had with one of your patients, a Mr. Rowland H. back in the early 1930’s,” Wilson explains, “did play a critical role in the founding of our Fellowship.”

Jung may not have known his influence on the recovery movement, Wilson says, although alcoholics had accounted for “about 13 percent of all admissions” in his practice, notes Fox. One of his patients, Rowland H.—or Rowland Hazard, “investment banker and former state senator from Rhode Island”—came to Jung in desperation, saw him daily for a period of several months, stopped drinking, then relapsed. Brought back to Jung by his cousin, Hazard was told that his case was hopeless short of a religious conversion. As Wilson puts it in his letter:

[Y]ou frankly told him of his hopelessness, so far as any further medical or psychiatric treatment might be concerned. This candid and humble statement of yours was beyond doubt the first foundation stone upon which our Society has since been built.

Jung also told Hazard that conversion experiences were incredibly rare and recommended that he “place himself in a religious atmosphere and hope for the best,” as Wilson remembers. But he did not specify any particular religion. Hazard discovered the Oxford Group. He might, as far as Jung was concerned, have met God as he understood it anywhere. “His craving for alcohol was the equivalent,” wrote the psychiatrist in a reply to Wilson, “on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”

In his reply letter to Wilson, Jung uses religious language allegorically. AA took the idea of conversion more literally. Though it wrestled with the plight of the agnostic, the Big Book concluded that such people must eventually see the light. Jung, on the other hand, seems very careful to avoid a strictly religious interpretation of his advice to Hazard, who started the first small group that would convert Wilson to sobriety and to Oxford Group methods.

“How could one formulate such an insight that is not misunderstood in our days?” Jung asks. “The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to a higher understanding.” Sobriety could be achieved through “a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism"—through an enlightenment or conversion experience, that is. It might also occur through “an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends.”

Though most founding members of AA fought for the stricter interpretation of Jung's prescription, Wilson always entertained the idea that multiple paths might bring alcoholics to the same goal, even including modern medicine. He drew on the medical opinions of Dr. William D. Silkworth, who theorized that alcoholism was in part a physical disease, “a sort of metabolism difficulty which he then called an allergy.” Even after his own conversion experience, which Silkworth, like Jung, recommended he pursue, Wilson experimented with vitamin therapies, through the influence of Aldous Huxley.

His search to understand his mystical “white light” moment in a New York detox room also led Wilson to William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. The book “gave me the realization,” he wrote to Jung, “that most conversion experiences, whatever their variety, do have a common denominator of ego collapse at depth.” He even thought that LSD could act as such a “temporary ego-reducer” after he took the drug under supervision of British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond. (Jung likely would have opposed what he called “short cuts” like psychedelic drugs.)

In the letters between Wilson and Jung, as Ian McCabe argues in Carl Jung and Alcoholics Anonymous, we see mutual admiration between the two, as well as mutual influence. “Bill Wilson,” writes McCabe’s publisher, “was encouraged by Jung’s writings to promote the spiritual aspect of recovery,” an aspect that took on a particularly religious character in Alcoholics Anonymous. For his part, Jung, “influenced by A.A.’s success… gave ‘complete and detailed instructions’ on how the A.A. group format could be developed further and used by ‘general neurotics.’” And so it has, though more on the Oxford Group model than the more mystical Jungian. It might well have been otherwise.

Read more about Jung's influence on AA over at Aeon.

Related Content:

Zen Master Alan Watts Explains What Made Carl Jung Such an Influential Thinker

How James Joyce’s Daughter, Lucia, Was Treated for Schizophrenia by Carl Jung

Carl Jung: Tarot Cards Provide Doorways to the Unconscious, and Maybe a Way to Predict the Future

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Patti Smith’s New Tribute to the Avant-Garde Poet Antonin Artaud

The force of Artaud, you couldn’t kill him! - Patti Smith

Found sound enthusiasts Soundwalk Collective join forces with the Godmother of Punk Patti Smith for "Ivry," the musical tribute to poet and theatermaker Antonin Artaud, above.

The track, featuring Smith’s hypnotic improvised narration, alternately spoken and sung over Tarahumara guitars, Chapareke snare drums, and Chihuahua bells from Mexico's Sierra Tarahumara, the region that provided the setting for Artaud’s autobiographical The Peyote Dance, has the soothing quality of lullabies from such popular children’s music Folk Revivalists as Elizabeth Mitchell and Dan Zanes.

We’d refrain from showing the kiddies this video, though, especially at bedtime.

It begins innocently enough with mirror images of the beautiful Artaud—as the Dean of Rouen in 1928’s silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc, and later in the private psychiatric clinic in Ivry-sur-Seine where he ended his days.

Things get much rougher in the final moments, as befits the founder of the Theater of Cruelty, an avant-garde performance movement that employed scenes of horrifying violence to shock the audience out of their presumed complacency.

Nothing quite so hairy as Artaud’s virtually unproduceable short play, Jet of Blood—or, for that matter, Game of Thrones—but we all remember what happened to Joan of Arc, right? (Not to mention the grisly fate of the many peasants whose names history fails to note...)

In-between is footage of indigenous Rarámuri (or Tarahumara) tribespeople enacting traditional rituals—the mirrors on their headdresses and the filmmakers’ use of reflective symmetry honoring their belief that the afterlife mirrors the mortal world.

"Ivry" is the penultimate track on a brand new Artaud-themed album, also titled The Peyote Dance, which delves into the impulse toward expanded vision that propelled the artist to Mexico in the 1930s.

Prior to bringing Smith into the studio, members of Soundwalk Collective revisited Artaud’s journey through that country (including a cave in which he once lived), amassing stones, sand, leaves, and handmade Rarámuri instruments to “awaken the landscape’s sleeping memories and uncover the space’s sonic grammar.”

This mission is definitely in keeping with Smith’s practice of making pilgrimages and collecting relics.

The Peyote Dance is the first entry in a triptych titled The Perfect Vision. Tune in later this year to travel to Ethiopia’s Abyssinian valley in consideration of another Smith favorite, poet Arthur Rimbaud, and the Indian Himalayas, in honor of spiritual Surrealist René Daumal, whose allegorical novel Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing ended in mid-sentence, when he died at 36 from the effects of tuberculosis (and, quite possibly, youthful experiments with such psychoactive chemicals as carbon tetrachloride.)

You can order Soundwalk Collective’s album, The Peyote Dance, which also features the work of actor Gael García Bernal, here.

via BoingBoing

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Patti Smith’s 40 Favorite Books

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Why You Should Read Crime and Punishment: An Animated Introduction to Dostoevsky’s Moral Thriller

A desperately poor law student kills a pawnbroker. There we have the story, maximally distilled, of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and PunishmentOr at least we have the central event, to which everything in Dostoevsky's best-known novel leads and from which everything else follows. But as with so many 19th-century Russian novels, there's much more to it than that; some Dostoevsky enthusiasts see the book as not just the story of a murder's meditation and aftermath but an incisive portrayal of the eternal moral condition of humanity. But since such grand-sounding claims no doubt put off as many readers as they bring in, we'd do better to ask a simpler question: Why should you read Crime and Punishment?

The animated TED-Ed lesson by Alex Gendler above answers that question in four and a half animated minutes. "Though the novel is sometimes cited as one of the first psychological thrillers," Gendler says, its scope reaches far beyond the inner turmoil of the student-turned-killer Raskolnikov. "From dank taverns to dilapidated apartments and claustrophobic police stations, the underbelly of 19th-century Saint Petersburg is brought to life by Dostoyevsky’s searing prose."

With its large cast of fully realized and often not-quite-savory inhabitants, this "bleak portrait of Russian society reflects the author’s own complex life experiences and evolving ideas" — experiences that included four years in a Siberian labor camp as punishment for his participation in intellectual discussions of banned socialist texts.

You might assume that such a background would produce a bitter writer concerned only with revenge against the state, but Dostoevsky's social critique, Gendler says, "cuts far deeper. Raskolnikov rationalizes that his own advancement at the cost of the exploitative pawnbroker’s death would be a net benefit to society," which "echoes the doctrines of egoism and utilitarianism embraced by many of Dostoyevsky’s contemporary intellectuals." And all of us, not just intellectuals and political leaders, have the potential to cut ourselves off from our own humanity as Raskolnikov does. Some of us face punishment for the crimes we commit, but many of us don't — or not official, externally applied punishment, in any case, but "Dostoyevsky’s gripping account of social and psychological turmoil" still shows us how the harshest punishment comes from within.

Related Content:

The Digital Dostoevsky: Download Free eBooks & Audio Books of the Russian Novelist’s Major Works

Dostoevsky Draws Doodles of Raskolnikov and Other Characters in the Manuscript of Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Life & Literature Introduced in a Monty Python-Style Animation

The Animated Dostoevsky: Two Finely Crafted Short Films Bring the Russian Novelist’s Work to Life

Batman Stars in an Unusual Cartoon Adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Todd Rundgren’s Advice to Young Artists: Be Free and Fearless, Make Art That Expresses Your True Self, and Never Mind the Critics

The Internet has redeemed graduation season for those of us whose commencement speakers failed to inspire.

One of the chief digital pleasures of the season is truffling up words of wisdom that seem ever so much wiser than the ones that were poured past the mortarboard into our own tender ears.

Our most-recently found pearls come from the mouth of one of our favorite dark horses, musician, producer, and multimedia pioneer Todd Rundgren, one of Berklee College of Music’s 2017 commencement speakers.

Rundgren claims he never would have passed the prestigious institution’s audition. He barely managed to graduate from high school. But he struck a blow for lifelong learners whose pursuit of knowledge takes place outside the formal setting by earning honorary degrees from both Berklee, and DePauw University, where the newly anointed Doctor of Performing Arts can be seen below, studying his honoris causa as the school band serenades him with a student-arranged version of his song, All the Children Sing.

Rundgren’s outsider status played well with Berklee’s Class of 2017, as he immediately ditched his ceremonial headdress and conferred some cool on the sunglasses dictated by his failing vision.

But it wasn’t all opening snark, as he praised the students’ previous night’s musical performance, telling them that they were a credit to their school, their families and themselves.

His was a different path.

Rundgren, an experienced public speaker, claims he was stumped as to how one would go about crafting commencement speeches. Rejecting an avalanche of advice, whose urgency suggested his speech could only result in “universal jubilation or mass suicide if (he) didn’t get it right,” he chose instead to spend his first 10 minutes at the podium recounting his personal history.

It’s interesting stuff for any student of rock n roll, with added cool points owing to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s failure to acknowledge this musical innovator.

Whether or not the Class of 17 were familiar with their speaker prior to that day, it’s probable most of them were able to do the math and realize that the self-educated Rundgren would have been their age in 1970, when his debut album, Runt, was released, and only a couple of years older when his third album, 1972’s two disc, Ritalin-fueled Something/Anything shot him to fame.

After which, this proud iconoclast promptly thumbed his nose at commercial success, detouring into the sonic experiments of A Wizard, a True Star, whose disastrous critical reception belies the masterpiece reputation it now enjoys.

Rolling Stone called it a case of an artist “run amok.”

Patti Smith, whose absolutely mandatory Creem review reads like beat poetry, was a rare admirer.

Did a shiver of fear run through the parents in the audience, as Rundgren regaled their children with tales of how this deliberate trip into the unknown cost him half his fanbase?

How much is Berklee's tuition these days, anyway?

Autobiographical urges from the commencement podium run the risk of coming off as inappropriate indulgence, but Rundgren’s personal story is supporting evidence of his very worthy message to his younger fellow artists :

  • Don’t self-edit in an attempt to fit someone else’s image of who you should be as an artist. See yourself.
  • Use your art as a tool for vigorous self-exploration.
  • Commit to remaining free and fearless, in the service of your defining moment, whose arrival time is rarely published in advance.
  • Don’t view graduation as the end of your education. Think of it as the beginning. Learn about the things you love.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Mueller Report Released as a Free Well-Formatted eBook (by The Digital Public Library of America)

Boing Boing writes: "Back in April, Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly wrote a column deploring the abysmal formatting in the DoJ's release of the Mueller Report, and publicly requesting that the Digital Public Library of America produce well-formatted ebook editions, which they have now done!"

The Digital Public Library of America adds:

The Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election, or the Mueller Report, is now freely available in ebook format to read on your phone or tablet from DPLA’s website and the Open Bookshelf collection. The Mueller report was released to the public by the Department of Justice as a PDF last month, initially in a format that was not text-searchable. By making the report available as an ebook in our Open Bookshelf collection, anyone can download and read it for free, all in the SimplyE app - no library card or sign in required.

One of the primary objectives of DPLA’s ebooks work is to make the best openly-licensed e-content available to libraries and their patrons. For libraries offering New York Public Library’s SimplyE app, the Mueller Report can be easily integrated into the ebook offerings made available to their patrons. SimplyE and Open Bookshelf are freely available to anyone with an iOS or Android device.

Read the Mueller Report today

Download on the web: Visit, download it in one click, and read it with your computer’s e-reader like iBooks.

Read in SimplyE on your phone or tablet:

  1. Download the SimplyE app to your iOS or Android device.

  2. Use the library selector icon in the upper left corner, select Manage Accounts, then Add Library, and select Digital Public Library of America.

  3. Find the Mueller Report in the top row.

To learn more about Open Bookshelf and other DPLA ebooks offerings, visit DPLA’s Ebook work and the production of the Mueller Report ebook is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

You can also download The Mueller Report in an epub version here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

via Boing Boing

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How Computers Ruined Rock Music

There are purists out there who think computers ruined electronic music, made it cold and alien, removed the human element: the warm, warbling sounds of analog oscillators, the unpredictability of analog drum machines, synthesizers that go out of tune and have minds of their own. Musicians played those instruments, plugged and patched them together, tried their best to control them. They did not program them.

Then came digital samplers, MIDI, DAWs (digital audio workstations), pitch correction, time correction… every note, every arpeggio, every drum fill could be mapped in advance, executed perfectly, endlessly editable forever, and entirely played by machines.

All of this may have been true for a short period of time, when producers became so enamored of digital technology that it became a substitute for the old ways. But analog has come back in force, with both technologies now existing harmoniously in most electronic music, often within the same piece of gear.

Digital electronic music has virtues all its own, and the dizzying range of effects achievable with virtual components, when used judiciously, can lead to sublime results. But when it comes to another argument about the impact of computers on music made by humans, this conclusion isn’t so easy to draw. Rock and roll has always been powered by human error—indeed would never have existed without it. How can it be improved by digital tools designed to correct errors?

The ubiquitous sound of distortion, for example, first came from amplifiers and mixing boards pushed beyond their fragile limits. The best songs seem to all have mistakes built into their appeal. The opening bass notes of The Breeder’s “Cannonball,” mistakenly played in the wrong key, for example... a zealous contemporary producer would not be able to resist running them through pitch correction software.

John Bonham’s thundering drums, a force of nature caught on tape, feel “impatient, sterile and uninspired” when sliced up and snapped to a grid in Pro Tools, as producer and YouTuber Rick Beato has done (above) to prove his theory that computers ruined rock music. You could just write this off as an old man ranting about new sounds, but hear him out. Few people on the internet know more about recorded music or have more passion for sharing that knowledge.

In the video at the top, Beato makes his case for organic rock and roll: “human beings playing music that is not metronomic, or ‘quantized’”—the term for when computers splice and stretch acoustic sounds so that they align mathematically. Quantizing, Beato says, “is when you determine which rhythmic fluctuations in a particular instrument’s performance are imprecise or expressive, you cut them, and you snap them to the nearest grid point.” Overuse of the technology, which has become the norm, removes the “groove” or “feel” of the playing, the very imperfections that make it interesting and moving.

Beato’s thorough demonstration of how digital tools turn recorded music into modular furniture show us how the production process has become a mental exercise, a design challenge, rather than the palpable, spontaneous output of living, breathing human bodies. The “present state of affairs,” as Nick Messitte puts it, is “keyboards triggering samples quantized to within an inch of their humanity by producers in the pre-production stages.” Anyone resisting this status quo becomes an acoustic musician by default, argues Messitte, standing on one side of the “acoustic versus synthetic” divide.

Whether the two modes of music can be harmoniously reconciled is up for debate, but at present, I’m inclined to agree with Beato: digital recording, processing, and editing technologies, for all their incredible convenience and unlimited capability, too easily turn rhythms made with the elastic timing of human hearts and hands into machinery. The effect is fatiguing and dull, and on the whole, rock records that lean on these techniques can't stand up to those made in previous decades or by the few holdouts who refuse to join the arms race for synthetic pop perfection.

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The Distortion of Sound: A Short Film on How We’ve Created “a McDonald’s Generation of Music Consumers”

Brian Eno Explains the Loss of Humanity in Modern Music

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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