Andy Warhol: Innovator of the Selfie, YouTube, Reality TV and Gay Cowboys
Human obsession with self-reflection is nothing new. Humans gaze at their reflection from time to time while passing by mirrors or store windows. Humans are quite taken with looking at faces, especially infants and artists. There are fairy-tales that feature infatuation with self-reflection such as, the story of Narcissus who was enamored with his own reflection and the Queen, who needed reassurance from her mirror that she is “the fairest of them all.” The Pop artist Andy Warhol was also obsessed with self-reflection as is clear in his series of portraits. Andy Warhol set into motion many of the technologies we use today like selfies, YouTube, Reality TV and progressive film making. Warhol was a hybrid artist; he created portraits, films and was a successful industrial manufacturer.
There was a decrease of portraits in the art world during the Abstract and Expressionist movements; Warhol breathed life back into portraits. Andy Warhol’s portraits and self-portraits or selfies were very simple. He used a photo-booth, a Polaroid, or press photographs for his portraits. Today’s selfies are just as simple, one click from a cell phone and another click to circle the globe. Warhol was aware of society’s need of instant gratification and selfie portraits helped to satiate this want. While there are apps that allow for a selfie to morph into different appearances in a matter of clicks, Warhol could display his selfies with grace. For example, Warhol morphed his selfie with an exploration into his inner psyche and celebrated his sexuality. His effort to morph his female side is very alluring in his Polaroid collection titled Self-Portrait in Drag.
Andy Warhol created selfies as well as portraits of popular people. He created portraits of celebrities in the film industry, politics, art patrons, models and celebutants those famous just for being famous. His celebrity portraits began as photographs, again from photo-booths, Polaroid’s, or published photos. His portrait of the film star Marilyn Monroe and former First Lady Jackie Kennedy are very well-recognized images. Art patrons paid handsomely for the opportunity to have a portrait created by Warhol; his fee was $40,000. If Warhol was alive today perhaps he would create portraits of the Kardashins including Bruce Jenner’s transformation akin to Warhol’s Self-Portrait in Drag. Warhol also experimented with film and created some avant garde portraits.
Andy Warhol created over 525 films 472 of those were Screen Tests. In these screen tests a person would sit in front of the camera with no direction or script or plot, for three minutes. One of the more popular screen tests was the portrait of Edie Sedgwick who was an American heiress, a model and starred in many of his other films. For her screen test she sat looking into the camera, blinking, and a slight tilt of her head; similar to how most people seem on their computer camera. Warhol captured these three minutes on black-and-white film and then played them back at a slower speed so that he could create a moving portrait. This screen test is also similar to live feed on the Internet or a YouTube video. Warhol stated, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” This quote is true when a YouTube video goes viral. Warhol also did some experimental films that were longer and focused on the realities in human behavior.
Warhol created films such as Kiss, Sleep and Eat; these titles are the realities of being human. The film Kiss was shot in 16 mm black-and-white film and transferred to digital files, and the length of this film was 54 minutes. It was a silent film with couples kissing for three minutes. Warhol created an even longer film title Sleep this black-and-white slow motion fixed frame film lasted for five hours and twenty minutes. It features Warhol and his companion poet John Giorno sleeping for over five hours. Was Warhol onto something here did he bring about the Reality TV shows that are supposed to be unscripted, no direction and just real life? But wait; there’s more Warhol created a feature-length Western film in Arizona. So what? Well, this was a western with a twist it was about gay cowboys. Yes, Warhol created Lonesome Cowboys in 1968. Perhaps, Warhol set the stage for Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain in 2005?
As a manufacturer of Pop art Warhol understood societies love of instant gratification; in addition, to society’s need of self-admiration. Warhol brilliantly used industrialized tools like the photo-booth and Polaroid’s as a catalyst for instant gratification and to procure handsome portrait commissions. Warhol also understood societies need for consumerism. Industrial manufacturing produced volumes of consumer items for the masses. Warhol used common household items and turned them into works of art like the Brillo cartons, Coca-Cola bottles and the famous Campbell Soup cans. These silk screen prints reflected consumerism and made Warhol a household name as well.
Warhol paved the way for selfies, experimental videos like YouTube and exploratory film formats for Reality TV. He was so far-reaching that he created a film in the 1960s about homosexual cowboys that possibly furnished the foundation for the award-winning film Brokeback Mountain. Warhol was quite innovative in his artistic creations and the influence his work had on society and consumerism. Why even today Warhol is experimenting with film. He has a live feed to his burial grounds; you can watch his grave site at anytime. He continues to stay in touch with us in his figment.
I never understood why when you died, you didn’t just vanish, and everything could just keep going on the way it was only you just wouldn’t be there. I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph and no name.
Well, actually, I’d like it to say “figment.”
Gravesite Warhol.org/figment/ Web. 2 May 2011.
Kiss. Dir. Andy Warhol Perf. Rufus Collins, Johnny Dodd, Fred Herko, Naomi Levine. 1963. Film.
Lonesome Cowboys. Dir. Andy Warhol, Paul Morrissey. Perf. Viva, Tom Hompertz, Louis Waldon. Andy Warhol Films. 1968. Film.
Screen Tests. Dir. Andy Warhol Perf. Edie Segwick, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg. 1964-1966. Film.
Sleep. Dir. Andy Warhol Perf. Andy Warhol and John Giorno. 1963. Film.
The Andy Warhol Museum Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. 1998.
Warhol, Andy. Marilyn Monroe. 1962. Oil, Acrylic, and silkscreen enamel on canvas. Collection Jasper Johns, New York.
Warhol, Andy. Self-Portrait in Drag. 1980-1981. Polaroid’s. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA.
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