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Using Art
Whether we stop to think about it or not, most of us, as artists, do more than just create art. Even if we're, at best, only modestly successful in what we do, we're also guilty of using art. We use it for our own self-gratification, to make money, to try and obtain some degree of prestige, and to insure some form of lasting commemoration after we're gone. As art has evolved over the centuries the rich and powerful have used artists and their art for much the same reasons. However, it has only been in the last hundred years or so that artists themselves have got very good at it. In 1928, in Pittsburgh, there was born an artist who, we might say, very nearly wrote the book (or rewrote it) on how artists could USE art. He was the third son of Czechoslovakian immigrants who, at fourteen, got his first taste of art from a free workshop in art appreciation at what was then the Carnegie Institute of Technology. It was from there he later graduated, having first learned how to use art to lift himself from the drab existence of his lower class ethnic background into the bright and shiny world of New York's most chic fashion magazines and hottest night-clubs, hobnobbing with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Truman Capote, Liza Minelli, and Mick and Bianca Jagger.

Andrew Warhola was no instant success on the art scene. Shortening his name to Warhol, his first paying job was teaching art while still in college. Then he worked for a dozen years through the fifties as a commercial artist for slick New York publications such as The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, and Vogue. With this background, when Pop Art came along in the early sixties, he was in a position to not only hop on the bandwagon, but to drive it. He used every slick, promotional production technique he'd ever seen in business, advertising, and marketing to impose his world of commercial hype upon a tired art scene wrestling with the gradual realisation that the much-touted New York School with its Abstract Expressionism was sowing the seeds of its own destruction as it nonetheless rocketed down what Warhol saw as a dead end road. He, and fellow Pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns saw themselves as the next generation waiting to use art. But no one (except possibly Dali) in any generation, before or since, has ever used art the way Andy Warhol did.

It wasn't so much that he knew how to use art, but the he also knew how to use the entire art scene, the media, the gallery system, the economic system, the social scene, everything that went into making Art with a capital "A". And, It wasn't just the aluminium foil coated parties he held in his factory-studio, or the boring, day-long, underground movies he produced as backdrops for his alcohol soaked soirees, or the carefully nurtured cult standing he developed. It was all this and more--he was a prolific production manager of studied superficiality. In 1968 he was shot and nearly killed by a member of the Society for Cutting up Men, or S.C.U.M. It mattered not that the would-be assassin, Valerie Solanis, was not only the founder, but also the sole member of her group. He used the incident as the basis for cementing his place in the celebrity world far beyond the meagre brilliance the art world had to offer. It was, indeed, ironic that, in 1987, this eccentric media giant was brought down, not by a bullet, but by the routine medical procedure of gall bladder surgery. In 1996 by the way, the shooting incident was the basis of an independent film, I Shot Andy Warhol. Andy would have regretted not having come up with the idea himself.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
21 March 1999


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