Friday, October 17, 2014

Pop Art (pt. 4)

No doubt Warhol's most famous contribution to the art world was the simple image of a Campbell's Tomato Soup Can.
Once again, such a straightforward image can speak for itself.  It's commonplace, widespread, and instantly recognizable.  Perhaps I can't identify with Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series, but in America back at this time this would have been something I looked at very regularly, maybe even on a weekly basis at the grocery store.  It would therefore have its own meaning with me—(perhaps to remind me that we're out of tomato soup).  The art here ceases to be about the artist (as with Van Gogh and Pollock) and becomes about the public.  This is a cultural image of a public reality: countless people buy this kind of soup, even today.  To qualify such an entity as a work of art is a statement on the lifestyle of the American crowd in the Postmodern Era.  America is, after all, infamous for its consumerist-centered commercial industry; why not marry art to that?  And the implications of a work such as this on American consumerism surface most visibly when examining the artist's larger collages of Campbell's Tomato Soup Cans.  Warhol even went so far as to include 100 Cans in one of his works (and he titled it simply that).
When you think about it within the progression of art history up to now, it isn't as deconstructive to art theory as one might first expect.  When Marcel Duchamp submitted a urinal to an art salon in 1917, it was a clear, satirical jab at the institution of the art world at that time; but there is a degree of sincerity in Warhol's Tomato Soup Cans which goes beyond a mere avant-garde shift of focus onto the unexpected.  Shouldn't the fact that this is an object seen by so many people on a regular, everyday basis be a vindication for it to ascend to the level of art?  This is capturing culture.  In the Baroque Era, kings and queens and princes had their portraits painted to display to the public, and that was a statement of societal construction; it asserted the dominance of royalty.  Similarly, we looked at several propaganda paintings of Napoleon Bonaparte from the Neoclassical Period, which made direct statements on French politics at the time.  Art has perhaps always reflected pieces of the society in which it appears.  The Postmodern world simply embraced a broader hierarchy of significance, from continental maps to a mere can of soup—and that is reflective of the philosophy of such a time as well.

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