The Big Ideas Behind Andy Warhol’s Art, and How They Can Help Us Build a Better World

Mul­ti­col­ored Mar­i­lyn Mon­roes, a can of Camp­bel­l’s soup, that sil­ver wig, some vague but impor­tant role in the for­ma­tion of the Vel­vet Under­ground — how much, apart from a scat­ter­ing of cul­tur­al scraps such as these, does any of us real­ly know about Andy Warhol, one of the defin­ers of art in the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry? Ear­li­er this year, we fea­tured a video from John Green and Sarah Urist Green’s The Art Assign­ment that made the case for Andy Warhol in three min­utes. Assum­ing you accept its argu­ment, where to look next to cul­ti­vate a deep­er appre­ci­a­tion of the man who pro­duced those Mar­i­lyns and Camp­bel­l’s soup cans, wore that sil­ver wig, and presided over the envi­ron­ment in which the likes of the Vel­vet Under­ground could take shape?

Alain de Bot­ton’s School of Life, not just an insti­tu­tion but a pro­lif­ic mak­er of edu­ca­tion­al videos, has dou­bled down on the case for Andy Warhol with a six-minute video of their own, which comes as the first in their series of short primers on fig­ures from art and archi­tec­ture. (See a com­plete playlist of those videos below.) “Andy Warhol was the most glam­orous fig­ure of 20th-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can art,” de Bot­ton unequiv­o­cal­ly states, adding that his “great achieve­ment was to devel­op a gen­er­ous and help­ful view of two major forces in mod­ern soci­ety: com­merce and celebri­ty.”

With­in this frame­work, the les­son finds “four big ideas behind Andy Warhol’s work, which can teach us a more inspired way of look­ing at the world and prompt us to build a bet­ter soci­ety” — and which, in this tech­no­log­i­cal age of which Warhol him­self could only dream, have become more eas­i­ly imple­mentable than ever.

These ideas, on which the video elab­o­rates ver­bal­ly and visu­al­ly, have to do with (1) appre­ci­at­ing life by exam­in­ing the stuff of it — such as a hum­ble soup can — more close­ly, (2) improv­ing the work­ings of soci­ety by dis­trib­ut­ing glam­or dif­fer­ent­ly, grant­i­ng high­er sta­tus to maids and show­ing the nation the Pres­i­dent clean­ing a toi­let once in a while, (3) approach­ing busi­ness as a par­tic­u­lar­ly fas­ci­nat­ing form of art while dis­trib­ut­ing art more wide­ly by approach­ing it as a busi­ness, and (4) using an open and non-vin­dic­tive per­son­al­i­ty as a kind of “brand” to unite seem­ing­ly dis­parate artis­tic and com­mer­cial ven­tures into a coher­ent whole. Will any of this get you shop­ping for a Mar­i­lyn print of your own? It may or may not, but you won’t come away with­out a bit of inspi­ra­tion for how to take your own pur­suits to a new, more Warho­lian lev­el.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Case for Andy Warhol in Three Min­utes

Watch the Uncen­sored Andy Warhol-Direct­ed Video for The Cars’ Hit “Hel­lo Again” (NSFW)

Andy Warhol Shoots “Screen Tests” of Nico, Bob Dylan & Sal­vador Dalí

Andy Warhol’s 1965 Film, Vinyl, Adapt­ed from Antho­ny Burgess’ A Clock­work Orange

The Odd Cou­ple: Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, 1986

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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