Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans, 1962 (The Museum of Modern Art) Speakers: Sal Khan & Steven Zucker
Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans
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- - We're looking at one of the single canvases
- from a series of canvases of the "Campbell's Soup Cans"
- by Andy Warhol from 1962 at the Museum of Modern Art.
- One of the really important questions that comes up
- especially about modern art, is:
- -When you ask me that,
- a bunch of things surface in my brain.
- It does evoke something in me,
- so I'm inclined to say yes,
- but then there's a bunch of other things
- that say if I didn't see this in a museum;
- if I just saw this in the marketing department of Cambell's Soup,
- would you be viewing it differently?
- - Because it's advertising then. (Yes)
- But in the context of the museum,
- or in the context of Andy Warhol's studio,
- it's not quite advertising, right?
- -Even if it's the exact same thing? (Yeah!)
- And the idea here is, by putting it in the museum
- and saying "look at this in a different way"?
- -Well that's right. It really does relocate it.
- It does change the meaning. It does transform it.
- That's really one of the central ideas of modern art
- is that you can take something
- that's not necessarily based in technical skill
- - because I don't think you would say that this is beautifully rendered -
- but it relocates it and makes us think about it in a different way.
- -So, I guess, he would get credit
- for taking something that was very, almost mundane,
- something you see in everyone's cupboard,
- and making it a focal point.
- Like, you should pay attention to this thing.
- -I think that's exactly right.
- And I think that he's doing it about a subject
- that was about as low a subject as one could go.
- I mean, cheap advertising art was so far away
- from fine art, from the great masters,
- and then to focus on something as lowly
- as a can of soup
- -- and cream of chicken, no less --
- -And a lot of it is: if he did it 50 years earlier,
- people would have thought this guy is a quack
- and if he did it now,
- people would think he's just derivative
- and I mean it was really just that time where people
- happened to think this was art.
- -Well I think that that's right.
- In 1962, what Warhol is doing is, he is saying:
- It was about mass production, it was about factory,
- he in a sense said: "Let's not be looking at nature..."
- "...as if we were still an agrarian culture."...
- ..."We are now an industrial culture."...
- "...What is the stuff of our visual world now?"
- -I think I'm 80% there.
- I remember in college
- there was a little student-run art exhibit
- and as a prank,
- a student actually put a little podium there
- and put his lunch tray.
- He put a little plaquard next to it
- "Lunch Tray on Saturday" or something
- is what he called it. So he did it as a prank
- and everyone thought it was really funny,
- But to some degree it's kind of sounding like
- maybe what he did was art?
- -Well I think that's why it was so funny
- because it was so close.
- -And to some degree, when someone took a lunch tray,
- and gave it proper lighting
- and gave it a podium to look at
- and wrote a whole description about it,
- I did view the lunch tray in a different way.
- That is kind of the same idea.
- Something that is such a mundane thing, but you use it every day.
- What would you say to that?
- Is it a prank, or is it art?
- -Well I think it is a prank,
- but it is also very close to some important art
- that had been made earlier in the century.
- He had license to do that because of
- somebody named Marcel Duchamp.
- In fact, Warhol had, in a sense, the same kind of license,
- to not focus on the making of something
- not focus on the brushwork,
- not focus on the composition,
- not focus on the color,
- but focus on the re-focusing of ideas.
- -And the reason why we talk about Warhol
- or Duchamp or any of these people
- is that, as you said,
- it's not like they did something technically profound.
- Obviously Campbell's Soup's marketing department
- had already done something as equally as profound,
- it's more that they were the people
- who looked at the world in a slightly different way
- and highlighted that?
- -I think that that's right.
- Warhol was also very conciously working towards
- asking the same questions
- the prankster at your school was asking.
- He's saying, "Can this be art?"
- and in fact, he's really pushing it.
- Look at the painting closely for a moment.
- This is one of the last paintings
- that he has actually painted.
- He's really defined the calligraphy of this Campbell's.
- He's really sort of rendered the reflection of the tin at the top.
- But then he stopped.
- He said, "I don't want to paint the fleur-de-lis."
- You see those little fleur-de-lis down at the bottom?
- He said, "I don't want to paint those."
- So he actually had a little rubber stamp made of them
- and placed them down mechanically.
- What does that mean for an artist, then,
- to say "I don't even want to bother to paint these..."
- "... I'm just going to find a mechanical process to make this easier."?
- Warhol is doing something which I think is important
- which is reflecting the way we manufacture,
- the way we construct our world.
- Think about the things we surround ourselves with.
- Almost everything was made in a factory.
- Almost nothing is singular in the world anymore.
- It's not a world where we would normally find beautiful.
- -I don't know, sometimes I feel,
- and correct me if I'm wrong,
- that a decision was made that Warhol
- was interesting or great,
- and people will interpret his stuff to justify his greatness.
- That, 'oh, look, he used a printer instead of drawing it'
- which shows he was reflecting the industrial whatever
- but then if he'd done the other way,
- if he'd hand-drawn it, or hand-drawn it with his elbow
- or you know, finger painted it or something
- people would say "isn't this tremendous?"
- ..."You would normally see this thing printed by a machine..."
- but now he did it with his hands!"
- How much do you think that is the case?
- Or do you think I'm just being cynical?
- -Well, no, I think there's value in a certain degree of cynicism
- and I think that in some ways,
- what we're really talking about here is:
- "what does it mean to be an Avant-Garde artist?"
- What does it mean to change the language of art
- and try to find ways that art relates to our historical moment
- in some direct and authentic way?
- -Maybe it's easy for me to say this
- because I remember looking at this when I took 5th grade art class;
- Andy Warhol and all that so now it seems almost not that unique.
- But in '62 what I'm hearing is
- that Warhol was really noteworthy
- because he really did push people's thinking.
- -I think that Warhol was looking for,
- in 1962, a kind of subject matter
- that was completely outside of the scope
- that we could consider fine art.
- One of his contemporaries, Roy Lichtenstein,
- was asked what Pop Art was.
- He said, "Well, we were looking for subject matter..."
- "...that was so despicable, that was so low..."
- "... that nobody could possibly believe..."
- "... that it was really art."
- And I think you are right.
- I think now we look at it
- and it's so much a part of our visual culture
- that we immediatley accept it.
- I think it's interesting to retrieve
- just how shocking and radical that was.
- -This is fascinating.
- It seems like there is a lot of potential there.
- That stuff that is pseudo-art made for other purposes,
- for commerical purposes,
- but if you kind of shine a light on it
- in the way that a light has been shown on this, it does --
- in your mind would that cross the barrier into being art?
- --Well, you mentioned before
- that if somebody was doing this now,
- it would feel very derivative.
- I think that that's right.
- I think it underscores just how hard
- it is to find in our culture now,
- ways of making us see the world in new ways.
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