Andy Warhol as Big Brother

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Seeking pleasure, the energy expressed in the affection/esteem energy center of the false-self survival strategy, has never been more prominent than it is today. Most of us would like to have our fifteen minutes of fame. “Fame was the reward for manifest deeds. It stood for a social agreement about what was worth doing; hence the traditional pairing of fama and what the Renaissance called virtu, ‘prowess’ or ‘accomplishment.’ The celebrity, as Daniel Boorstin points out, is famous for being famous—nothing else; hence his gratuitousness and disposability. The artist who perhaps understood this best and became best known for capitalizing on this understanding was Andy Warhol.” 

“Warhol loved the peculiarly inert sameness of the mass product,” said Robert Hughes, “an infinite series of identical objects—soup cans, Coke bottles, dollar bills, Mona Lisa, or the same head of Marilyn Monroe, silkscreened over and over again. ‘I want to be a machine,’ he announced.” 

Perhaps Warhol liked the security of conformity which is the opposite of risk and change and, of course, the opposite of a paradigm shift. Conformity also allows us to avoid self-examination and the First Noble Truth—something is wrong here—I am suffering. In that sense, Warhol’s art is even the opposite of the definition of art as an expression of truth and beauty.

Hughes continues, “Warhol’s work in the early sixties was a baleful mimicry of advertising, without the gloss. It was about the way advertising promises that the same pap with different labels will give you special, unrepeatable gratifications. Advertising flatters people that they have something in common with artists; the consumer is rare, discriminating, a connoisseur of sensation. If Warhol was once a subversive—and in the early sixties he was—it was because he inverted the process on which successful advertising depends, becoming a famous artist who loved nothing but banality and sameness.  [And we are left with] Warhol’s calculatedly grungy view of reality.” 

Certainly the Big Brother of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s nation of Oceania had a bleak and “grungy view of reality.” Modern advertising can certainly warrant comparison to the mind control of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. The “thought-police” of Madison Avenue are watching our every move, second-guessing our thoughts and understand more about our behavioral motivations than we do. The security and sensation center of the false self played a large role in Warhol’s worldview and his art and by embracing the refuge of conformity and thoughtless repetition, he would have made an ideal citizen of a society where divergent thinking and creativity would have been discouraged even in the art world. We haven’t reached the point yet where thinking is a crime but that is not much different than P-B where thinking is virtually “mindless.”

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry. 

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