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Warhol’s Remix Phenomenon

 

The concept of remix is one that is frequently discussed in mainstream media; typically and almost exclusively in regards to the music industry. Remixes, however, occur across all fields, encompassing a variety of genres and mediums, and remixes can now be found in every aspect of popular culture. Andy Warhol was one such artist who not only had his work reproduced and altered, but derived his own work from already existing subjects.

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Warhol was an American artist responsible for leading the 60s-era visual genre known as Pop Art. Primarily focusing on celebrity culture and consumerism, his artwork was equal parts controversial as it was exploratory and innovative. Warhol’s work was deeply rooted in reproduction. Not only was he one of the first artists to build a studio and hire assistants to work on a production line, but he also began his artistic career by painting copies of pre-existing works before he focused on the endeavor of screen printing.

Warhol was arguably most known for his screen print renditions of the Campbell’s soup can, just one example of how the artist utilized the concept of remixing in his own work. Warhol also created screen prints of famous icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and first-lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Reimagining the very objects and figures that comprised the “American Dream”, his work aimed to turn the mainstream on its head – throwing capitalism and consumerism back into the very faces of the people that, for so long, condemned him.

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Warhol even remixed famous works of art himself, taking classic paintings such as the Mona Lisa and transforming them into technicolor copies – reproduced time and time again. This juxtaposition is one of the many traits that lead to Warhol’s success, but positive perceptions of the artist certainly weren’t established overnight.

“You’re a killer of art, you’re a killer of beauty, and you’re even a killer of laughter,” William de Kooning shouted at Warhol across a party in 1968, mere months after the assassination attempt on the pop artist’s life. Though not all critics of Warhol were so bluntly and publicly opposed to the artist, many did have reservations regarding his ethos and the true intent behind his work.

Warhol was scrutinized for lacking substance in a professional and creative field that relied heavily on just that – through both the artwork produced and the artist’s projection of themselves. While pop art aimed to criticize culture, Warhol was accused of merely indulging in it. The artist was equally accused of being selfish and self-absorbed to the extent of bearing no ethics or credibility, and the artist himself didn’t necessarily deny such allegations. On the contrary, he seemed to almost revel in the negative press surrounding him. “I am a deeply superficial person,” Warhol once mused.

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His admittance to the critiques that sought to destroy him plays a crucial role in Warhol’s overall success. The artist certainly didn’t garner fans and followers through his exercise of pathos, but rather, by focusing on commanding the one commodity he knew how to obtain – attention. Richard A. Lanham discusses this phenomenon in his essay, “Economists of Attention.” Lanham states, “In an information economy, the real scarce commodity will always be human attention. Attracting that attention is the necessary precondition of social change.” As a result, one cannot gauge Warhol’s success in terms of tangible works of art, but rather, by weighing out the artist’s impact. By reacting to the attention trap, whether positively or negatively, you’re ultimately falling into it.

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