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  • Writer's pictureJay Abel


Updated: Apr 13

J. Daniel Abel - Andy Warhol, 2023

I have often marveled at the shear fecklessness of modern American fame.

In 1962, Andy Warhol, an indifferent, commercial illustrator with no particular style and paper-thin talent, hung some bloodless serigraphs of a Campbell’s soup can in a New York art gallery. He was lionized as a genius (never mind that he was no such thing), condemned as a fraud, (which is more like it) and his tepid contribution to pop art, exploded into a fame great as that of Leonardo or Picasso or even Jesus.

Pop Art, for all of its self-proclaimed meaninglessness, was often clever, jazzy and far more cogently structured than anybody had a right to expect. Warhol was none of those things. He was not so much a creative force as opposed the manufacturer of a certain product. Lichtenstein, Rosenquist and Johns were, all of them, ten times the artist Warhol ever was.

Warhol’s images were shamelessly shopped off the bargain table, without the considerable bother of doing much to make them more interesting. Besides throwing a few arbitrary colors into the print run, he delegated most of the work he took credit for to factotums or mechanical reproduction.

He hardly did anything.

Beyond his pin-prick on the skin of art history, Warhol's impact on anything else was nil. In his tinfoil lined art"factory”, an entourage of "superstars" were nothing but dope-addicted party animals who likewise did nothing much, when they got round to doing anything except for shooting smack. His books were boring, his music was heroin inspired drivel and his movies were notable only for being awful.

He became the Fabian of American art, famous for getting famous.

He ultimately got so famous a crazy person tried to assassinate him in 1968. He never entirely recovered from his gunshot wound and died on the operating table 19 years later in 1987. Even that worked out well for his posthumous reputation, he became not only a university/museum deity but a martyr.

He reaffirmed his "genius" late in life by scribbling over a mug shot of chairman Mao with day-glow crayons. In 2013 an altered stock photograph with little more than his name attached, sold at auction for 105 million dollars. This while artists with guts, brains, talent and something worthwhile to say couldn’t sell enough to buy dog food, and still can’t.

So, what was it? Genius? He had none, save for passing himself off as one. Brilliance? He was often taken for a moron. His informed critical response to almost anything was "oh, gee, that's great". Charisma? He was charmless. Luck? Undoubtedly. 90% of fame is dumb luck. The other 10% is, generally speaking, more dumb luck, but it didn’t hurt that Warhol had the honed instincts of a gifted media whore, and he could strike a convincing pose for the flashcubes. He was the diffident, above-it-all guru of consumer nihilism - his wet, half open mouth, his slackened, sallow face, his stringy, bleached hair, his empty, thousand-mile stare.

He certainly knew how to impress the snooty New York art crowd who paid his freight.

His great defining utterance, “everybody will be famous for 15 minutes” is cryptic balderdash. Almost everybody, including myself, will be nobody until they die and well after that and they know it.

Hence the fascination with fame.

Worlhol became a template for a the sort of fame that is more like cashing a 24 million dollar lotto ticket than as a reward for any heroic achievement. Many like him, in all fields, came after. Tit queens with less talent, and fewer brains than Mike, the headless chicken, posted sex tapes online and got TV shows. Mediocre, musically illiterate pop stars, who never penned so much as a memorable jingle and never will, crash the top ten mainly for being arrogant brats who look good in orange cargo pants. Washed-up jocks commit dumb crimes and slam through the media ceiling.

Fame or infamy? it doesn’t matter anymore. Fame is fame. An end in itself. The only bad publicity is no publicity.

The cult of fame can also be a very dangerous thing. Donald Trump, an arrogant, witless, bigmouthed bully and lifelong criminal, leveraged his worthless notoriety as a trash TV star to the very presidency itself. He brought America to the brink of a nuclear war, and his asinine response to a public health crisis killed at least a quarter million people, probably more.

But I digress.

My point is, the very people who are lest worthy of fame, hog most of it. The adoration of St Andy could be considered pretty harmless, a cynical and successful scam to jack up his tag at auction, but it’s worse than just that. It’s an insult to infinitely greater artists, William Wendt, George Segal, Alan Cober, Ron Cobb, David Levine and dozens of others who actually did something remarkable and unique and who are barely remembered for it. Worst of all, Warhol's example has trivialized the very idea of art itself to near worthlessness.

Instant, unearned fame make hard work and accomplishment meaningless. My 19 year old students don’t know any difference between the two, or care.

Neither do a lot of other people. JDA


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