Why Andy Warhol was made for social media

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Before there even was a popular definition of social media, Andy Warhol was the human embodiment of it. The man practically created the concept of bringing together people through pop culture and art – all he lacked was a modern delivery system.

Today, seeing as everyone from Barbie to your poodle has an Instagram account, what might the artist born in Pittsburgh as Andrew Warhola have done with his?

Photo of Andy Warhol taken sometime between 1966 and 1977 by Jack Mitchell (1925-2013), licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

There’s no doubt that had he lived, Warhol – who died in 1987 in New York City and whose 90th birthday would have been on August 9th of this year – would have become an even bigger worldwide pop icon. Everything about his life – the films, the silkscreens, the paintings, books and even his early work in advertising – was so fantastic that he and his legion of followers might well have documented it through posts, tweets and livestream events.

Snapchat, however, would not have been his thing, given its nature of impermanence. “The idea is not to live forever,” Warhol once said, “but to create something that will.”

Sarah DeIuliis is a Pittsburgh native, Warhol scholar and visiting assistant professor at Duquesne University. On a recent morning, she strolled through the galleries of the Andy Warhol Museum on the North Shore to discuss this modern-day facet of Warhol’s artistic legacy.

Adapting to social media, she said, would have been a piece of cake for the ever-changing artist.

“I think that if you look at what he did while he was alive, he was a different artist at different times,” she said. “But he was still the pop art artist, and I think that’s something regardless of where life took him.

“If he had been alive today, I think he would have maintained, for lack of a better word, that ethos.”

Warhol famously informed his art through an early career in advertising. He knew how to compose a scene on canvases large and small, which leads one to guess that Instagram would have been his platform of choice.

“It’s like that plate of food people share now on Instagram, or that blue sky. So, he’s finding the things, the symbols that would resonate with people on a different scale,” DeIuliis said.

Andy Warhol and playwright Tennessee Williams in conversation aboard the S.S. France, 1967. Film director Paul Morrissey shown in background. Photo by James Avalines, NY World-Telegram and Sun staff photographer. Source: Library of congress Prints and Photographs Division

The artist, who socialized with other celebrities of the day, would say he considered himself a mirror of modern culture. This made his art a reflection, but perhaps not a true representation of his inner monologue. For that reason, you probably could scrap the notion that he would have tweeted his 1968 stay in the hospital after being shot by Valerie Solanas.

These kinds of pics were OK for a shirtless Justin Bieber in 2013, but perhaps a bit too “out there” for Warhol, who closely guarded his personal privacy.

“I can’t say he would have been very forthright in his sharing. He wasn’t a massive sharer of his own personal life, although he worked very hard in that cultivation of Andy Warhol, as opposed to Andy Warhola, which is very important.”

Yet the artist was eager to perform. A video at the Warhol Museum shows Warhol and associate Gerard Malanga creating one of the “Marlon Brando” silkscreens.

“You can see he’s not uncomfortable (being filmed). He’s just so intent on his work,”DeIuliis said. “You can see the passion he’s putting into the silkscreen.”

Warhol’s silkscreens represent a very “Instagrammable” opportunity. They are strikingly visual, and the images leave space for interpretation.

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Marilyn Monroe, silkscreen, Edition Sunday B Morning. Image source: Jasper52

“As he began to experiment with the technique, it was about the repetition and the bold colors, the artistic sensibilities that translate into cultural values,” DeIuliis said. “I’m watching that image being repeated over and over and over again, and for me, that just kind of spoke to the beginning of his reflecting on the American culture.”

Some of his art was just beautiful fun. From his early days of drawing commercial images from a shoe company came works of whimsy. One series of shoe lithographs is titled “A la recherche du shoe per du.”

It’s a riff on the title of Marcel Proust’s classic novel “A la recherche du temps perdu” (“In Search of Lost Time.”)

Ponder the hashtags: (hash)theshoemustgoon, or perhaps (hash)baringmysole.

Not all forms of social media might have been a good fit, however. Would Warhol have embraced Facebook? Please. At the time of his death in 1987, Warhol was only 58. Although he would have fallen into the demographic that shares old high school photos and pictures of their grandkids, he had a much younger vibe. It’s likely he would have shunned a form of social media that was no longer fresh.

Perhaps Facebook Live or any number of social media video components would have been more attractive, DeIuliis said.

“Livestreaming may have been something early on he would have been quite taken with,” she said. “If you look at some of his earliest documentaries, for example, when he does ‘Sleep,’ or the Empire State Building.

“He edits; ‘Sleep,’ in particular; he speeds up. But it’s still meant to resemble the uninterrupted shots of the object, and so I think that maybe when we talk about livestreaming … Experiencing that ‘in this moment’ mentality he might have found appealing.”

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), New England Clam Chowder, silkscreen, Edition Sunday B Morning. Image source: Jasper52

His “Screen Tests” – three-minute films of hundreds of people, famous and not, just sitting in front of a silent camera – are eminently suited to social media. Even the seemingly mundane images of Brillo boxes and Campbell’s soup cans are compositions carefully arranged to comment on our consumer culture.

And yes, Andy Warhol also did selfies. His first, based on a strip of photos taken in a booth at a New York City dime store in 1963, went for $7.7 million at Sotheby’s auction house last year.

Take that, Biebs.

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By Maria Sciullo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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