How Did Andy Warhol Contribute to American Intellectualism?

by Diane Evans
In the 1960s, Andy Warhol gained fame and notoriety in Pop-Art.

In the 1960s, Andy Warhol gained fame and notoriety in Pop-Art.

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During the 1960s, Andy Warhol burst into the American consciousness as a free spirit, and soon became an icon of Pop-Art, experimental films and music. His friends included intellectuals, street people, celebrities and wealthy patrons. He suggested that achievement is not a prerequisite for renown, in that anyone can have "15 minutes of fame." Warhol changed the way most people view art, and made celebrity-watching a popular cult fascination. Few people really knew him well, for he portrayed himself as a superstar without a distinct personality but with an always evolving self-image.

Pop Art

As the "Pope of Pop," Warhol's subjects led the avant-garde art world in new directions with new subjects, ranging from celebrities to Campbell's soup cans, Coca Cola, Brillo boxes and other brand-names. Using a silk-printing process and bright colors, he mass-produced his paintings from his studio, aptly named the "Factory." Warhol may not have painted all of his famous images himself; he ran the Factory with many assistants and apprentices who actually did at least some of the painting. Pop-Art is a style that highlights consumerism and popular culture. Warhol used his vantage point to offer unique insights into consumer behavior as it focused on the mass-produced world of celebrity fame, brand names and consumption.

Commercial Imagery

Warhol changed the way consumers view products by revealing that this country is united most strongly by commercialism. In Warhol's 1987 obituary in "Advertising Age," Lenore Skenazy commented that "his work pointed out the similarities between mass-produced goods such as soup, cleaners, celebrities, and news 'events' in a way that made clearer how images are manufactured." It went on to suggest that America saw itself through him. But not everyone had praise for Warhol. According to Eric Ernst in a recent article for the "East Hampton Press," one critic called Warhol "the most brilliant mirror of our times," while writer Robert Hughes called him "one of the stupidest people I've ever met in my life."

Celebrity Portrayal

One of Warhol's most important contributions to the newly emerging egalitarianism in American culture was celebrity worship. He compared the famous image of a celebrity to a popular brand name. He painted Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Chairman Mao, Troy Donahue, Muhammad Ali, Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor. Warhol suggested that in America, the richest consumed the same things as the poorest. The President and Liz Taylor both drank Coke, as did construction workers and teachers.

Films and Music

In addition to Elvis Presley, Warhol associated with other musicians, such as Mick Jagger, Diana Ross and John Lennon, and successfully promoted David Bowie, both as a musician and actor. These were well-known symbols whom he presented to the public as icons. He promoted a rock group, the Velvet Underground, and the film personality Edie Sedgwick. Warhol also made a mark on Roxy Music, the Ramones, the Talking Heads and several other New York City-based rock groups.

About the Author

Diane Evans is a retired civil engineer who has worked as a freelance writer/illustrator since 1988. She writes for various online publications, and also authors nonfiction and fiction for children’s and adult publications. Her education includes a B.S. in biology and an M.S. in biochemistry from Vanderbilt University, as well as a Bachelor of Civil Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images