To Be Popular: Andy Warhol
American culture thrives off recognition. Whether it be familiar brands, customs, or even faces, recognizability subconsciously governs our lives. This may be stemmed from the uniquely American tradition of capitalism as it tremendously relies on greater entities to supply goods, services, and entertainment. Warhol saw capitalism for what it was-- the good and the bad. He admired the rags to riches nature of the American dream, while also recognizing it as a wasteful materialistic bandaid used to cover our deeply rooted issues as a society. Recognizability, or popularity, generates a form of validation. Warhol created within this genre of Popular Art, where mass media was his muse. Warhol sought to appropriate familiar or popular images, stripping them from their original meaning. Such works were a testament to the dilution of value evident within overproduction. As an American culture, we are captured by large corporations and the appeal of larger than life figures, yet their inner workings or humanity are overlooked, upholding their status in society.
Warhol’s work utilizing silkscreen printing allowed him to capture mass media in its entirety. One of his most notable works is the Marilyn Diptych, featuring the repetitive portrait of Marilyn Monroe from her film Niagara, showcasing her iconic swept hair and sultry smile. Many view the piece as a tribute to the successful actress known for her physical appeal and sensuality. However, Warhol utilized this piece to showcase the superficiality of mass media, failing to capture the true emotion witnessed shortly after her tragic suicide. This provides an inherent contrast as the piece fails to exude this sense of loss apparent after her death. The celebrity status, or popularity of Marilyn Monroe devalued her life and humanity. Warhol stated, “The more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel." This sentiment is captured within the Marilyn Diptych as well as his piece Jackie Kennedy. Within Jackie Kennedy, the portrait of cultural and fashion icon Jackie Kennedy is captured and reproduced after witnessing her husband’s assassination. Warhol’s silkscreen reproductions extended beyond figures with his reproduction of the electric chair. The colorization, flatness, and repetitiveness strips the image from its original purpose, normalizing the death penalty. It is evident within his work that tragedy is glossed over and succumbed to the bright lights surrounding greater entities we idolize, including celebrity, corporations, and even simply the US government. Warhol cleverly disguises loss with the repetition of recognizable products and figures, understanding what it truly means to be popular.