Warhol as a Designer: an Experience

“He became an artist for people who knew very little about art.” Arthur C Danton

I recently went to the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Myhner gallery at the University of Denver. I had seen a larger portion of his work in Colorado Springs a few years ago, but my experience then wasn’t what I experienced today.

I’m surprised that I suddenly think Andy Warhol was more influential in my career field than I thought. I thought of him as an eccentric entity of society that exploited the common household item, portraits, sexuality…he brought prints to life in a way that was unique. A new form of expression that changed the ideas of society. And he was all of this. But in terms of me considering today’s society and looking back on Andy Warhol, was he able to see society in terms of graphic design without today’s technology?

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“This is so universal. I’ve seen it a million times in magazines and the such. But this is he first time I’ve been to an exhibit and seen it for real. It’s about time.” My Dad

Andy Warhol designed for the masses. His designs are pop art. We all learned this in Art History class. What I didn’t consider then though, was that his work seems to be a style of graphic design today. He explores the same image with a variety of different applications/effects applied to them. Or he takes a product and markets it in a way that is art. It seems to me, that’s what we do today. It’s like an early form of vector graphics and marketing.

“…every room here at the motel [has] cans with flowers in them, and I mean, I’m so tired of the Campbell’s Soup Can I could throw up.” Monday, Aug 31, 1981 Colorado.

Today, we study trends. We tweet and blog about “the top minimalistic designs”  or “top flourish photoshop brushes.” We see a variation on a theme in our magazine ads, websites, brochures, annual reports, email marketing campaigns…Andy first brought this idea of mass design in terms of Campbell Soup and Mick Jagger. He made an artform out of album covers with the Velvet Underground at the forefront (something I personally love and hit the record stores just to peruse the amazing art on CD covers. Makes me sad to think that the art of album cover print design may be fading. Anyway.) and did movies of ordinary people. People like us.

“Not everybody in my movies are degenerates. Just 99.9% of them.”

No, I’m not calling us, our clients or our target audience degenerates. But I am calling us the masses. The masses that Andy Warhol first started designing for. He went for simple, basic and yet strong, making a statement. It was influential and changed the way people thought about products, life and ideas. He did what we designers try to do everyday. And yet at the same time it was robotic and conforming. The same image over and over, the same thing over and over. The redundancy may be a contributor to his success. Maybe in an effort to organize society in a singular pattern, he exploded the creativity and minds of the masses.

I don’t know if any of this is valid, and some of it is quite obvious. However, it was a unique experience to me to view Andy Warhol as a designer, and not just an artist. When it comes down to it though, maybe what inspired me the most about Andy Warhol, was his courage.

I strive to have that kind of courage.

In any event, the only way to end an Andy Warhol exhibit is at Stogies and Bogeys, a cigar shop that had great music, great ambiance, good drinks and great cigars.

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