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Andy Warhol: Revolutionary Artist or the Reason for Low Culture’s Popularity?

Tony Scherman was a leading Canadian painter and also a contributing editor for Life magazine. He has also written many articles on art and music for the New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, American Heritage, New York, Entertainment Weekly, and People. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1974 with a master’s degree in fine art and literature. David Dalton was also a painter during the twentieth century, a founding editor of Rolling Stone, and a writer of pop culture. He graduated from Chubb Institute at the top of his class with a degree in arts and engineering. During his teen years, “David Dalton and his sister were assistants on Andy Warhol’s early Pop art paintings.”1 David Dalton has also written extensively on art, especially the art of Andy Warhol.

Tony Scherman and David Dalton’s Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol is a reliable and thorough biography of Andy Warhol’s rise to becoming one of the most celebrated artists in history. Spanning from Andy Warhol’s birth and childhood lifestyle to his death in 1987, the book vividly tells the unique and shocking story of Andy Warhol. It emphasizes his individuality as well as his flaws that became the reasons for his that led him to his eternal fame. They also described his success as a result of chance as they claim, the “stunning impact of Warhol’s great early-to mid-sixties canvases … lies ultimately in an outsider’s vision.”2

The book starts off by inputting curiosity into the readers by mentioning that Andy Warhol would never bring up his childhood and always answer questions about his past with “I come from nowhere.”3 From there on, Andy Warhol’s birthplace and childhood location is introduced: a small Slovakian village of Mikova. Mikova suffered from great poverty, and so did Andy and his family. Even though his family suffered from poverty, Andy Warhol was the most spoiled child out of his siblings. His mother, Julia Zavacky actively pushed him towards art lessons from one of Pittsburg’s Best, Joseph Fitzpatrick who claimed that Andy was “magnificently talented.”4 As a young boy, Andy Warhol was handsome and adorable; however, during his adolescence, he was struck with an unknown and incurable skin disease that spread all over his body and became the root for his deep insecurity and isolation in his teenage age years and on. Nevertheless, his mom and his dad still relied on him to become the successor of the family; he got accepted to and attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University), where he struggled greatly in all his classes including art. His stage fright, dyslexia, and refusal to listen to directions were all major issues in his college career; he was threatened to be expelled during his first year. He managed to redeem himself during his final art portfolio and continued to attend college. During his college years, he started to become open about his homosexuality, such as portraying himself as women in some of his artwork. 

After college, Andy moved into a friend’s studio apartment in New York to start his new career. In his art, he did not aim to capture beauty, but instead he created work that was unique and eye-catching. Even at the start of his career, Andy was extremely stubborn about money, a possible trait as to how he became as successful as he did; he refused to lower any of his original prices on any of his works even when he needed money desperately. During the mid-1950s, his career began reaching a steep upward arc when he received a job as a commercial artist for an exceptionally popular fashion magazine, Glamour.  Working at Glamour gave Andy the mind of a business person who thought hard about the needs of consumers, and it also gave him the opportunity to become known throughout the media. With that chance gained, Andy decided to leave for his own business. In 1961, Andy Warhol moved into 1342 Lexington, a rather huge apartment because he was in need for a real studio.  There, Andy and his friends began to create their, according to Andy Warhol and his friends, “Pop paintings”, which were heavily inspired by “old newspapers, comics, trinkets of low culture…”, and the works of Jasper Johns.5 Nineteen sixty-one also became the year when Andy Warhol’s career became dedicated to his Pop Art and ditched his past style as a commercial artist. With his Pop Art, he earned massive fame and recognition especially after the release of his Gold Marilyn; he revolutionized the Fine Arts Industry and the media, and Pop Art became a mainstream trend from an underground hobby. Pop Art began to float around the nation in the pages of magazines such as, Life, Time, and Newsweek, with a cheerful and upbeat vibe within its images.

The massive rise in Pop Art’s popularity in the media and the majority of the society inspired Andy Warhol to create images that were the exact opposite. His new projects were inspired by the radio broadcasts in 1964, which repetitively reported traffic fatalities, death, and violence, his dominant themes for his new paintings. They were no longer abstract and relied more on reality and hard truths instead of vibrant colors and intangibility. The subjects included suicides, car wrecks, an accidental poisoning, an electric chair, and other grim images that were about death and disasters. Andy’s immense popularity from the early sixties grew into France, Italy, and Germany. In 1965, Andy Warhol decided to stray away completely from his career as an artist and invest interest in the field of photography and filming. He reinvented the portrait photography as a still-frame film and made movies in which the camera did not move, the actors did not act, the scripts were, according to After Dark magazine, “…becoming cute, show-offy, and plotless …unlike Warhol’s earlier films”, and the dialogue was only a mad approximation of human speech.6 In 1965, Andy replaced his camera to one that had a well-recording built-in microphone so he was able to record movies easier and better. With the new camera and several actors and actresses for his movies, Andy Warhol created the Factory, which became his permanent film studio with an anti-Hollywood theme. December 13, 1964, Warhol filmed Harlot, and in July 1965, Norelco loaned a prototype of the first home video camera to Warhol for promotional purposes. October 7, 1965, Andy became a media superstar with public’s appeal for his new movie, Harlot.

After the success of his movie the Harlot, Andy got himself involved in the music industry, shortly. He began to work with the band The Velvet Underground with Gerard Malanga, and Wary Woronov. In January 1966 through the end of spring was the time of Andy Warhol’s greatest involvement with the Velvet Underground; he had a series of conversations with an aspiring twenty-year old photographer and journalist Gretchen Berg, who later published the conversations in the Nov. 1, 1966 issue of the East Village Magazine. The publication of the conversations spread the word of the Velvet Underground and helped them rise to fame. In 1967, Andy focused his interests back onto film directing and movie making by the release of the new movie Chelsea Girls. The Chelsea Girls movie became an even greater hit than Harlot; by late 1967, The Chelsea Girls became the most watched and most widely discussed underground film yet made in the United States, and was being shown in commercial movie houses nationwide. However, success in the movie business was only temporary for Andy Warhol; his later movies were ridiculed and unpopular. He became known for producing bizarre movie plots, a reputation that attracted Valerie Solanas into his office during 1968 asking him to produce her play. He tossed her script after getting advice from his co-directors, and few years later, she came to The Factory looking for her script. When Andy Warhol and his co-workers could not find her script, she decides to shoot Andy in a critical spot and several other workers in the Factory. His damages were fatal, and the chances of his survival were little to none since a “…single bullet had ricocheted through his spleen, liver, pancreas, esophagus, and both lungs.”7 Surprisingly, he managed to survive, but he never truly recovered mentally; he became so detached and afraid of people after that experience that the rest of his life was spent in his studio doing nothing. He was also constantly accused of creating a trend that glorified craziness and insanity, especially when the assassination of the beloved president Kennedy occurred. In the end, he became the blame for the society that was falling into the loss of morals. His popularity was lost as Valerie Solanas had risen. However, by that time, fame and success did not matter to Andy Warhol; he was still afraid of people and did not come out often. The event traumatized him until his death; he told interviewers that he had convinced already himself that he was already dead. Andy Warhol finally died in 1987.

Throughout the book, the authors continuously emphasize Andy Warhol’s personality and strength in character as they go into deep research, finding the reasons why he was the person he was. The authors’ thesis was to explain the roots of his success. His strong ambition and acceptance to work hard along with his deep insecurities and isolation became the main reasons for his success in the art industry, music industry, and film industry. The two authors also make constant ties with Andy’s actions during his careers with his childhood; “…Andy …when asked about his past would answer with jokes.”8 With that idea, they predicted that Andy Warhol during his rise to fame wanted to leave his past behind because of his life in poverty and embarrassment. His insecurity is also pointed out throughout the book many times as well; the authors use his insecurity as a reason for his social awkwardness and distance from even his closest friends. However, the authors conclude that his isolation is what led to his brilliance and originality as an artist, as a contributor in the music industry, and as a film maker.

The authors, Tony Scherman and David Dalton, shared a point of view while writing this book, although their views were not exactly obvious. Because they were both art journalists and artists, specifically painters, they focused much more deeply on Andy Warhol’s early career as an artist rather than as a movie maker. Scherman and Dalton were both probably one of Andy Warhol’s admirers since he became an icon in their career fields during their own era. In addition, one of the authors had once worked directly in Andy Warhol’s studio and would know more information on his early career than his later years. They thought that Andy Warhol’s past defined his character by the way they took the events in his past and tied them with his actions during his adulthood. For example, they mentioned his deep insecurity and shyness when it came to speaking to others and how Andy was immensely afraid of the hospital due to the death of his father when he was eight, an “...episode [that] may have had a lasting emotional effect.”9 Being a part of the modernist art movement in the twentieth century just like Andy Warhol, Tony Scherman and David Dalton probably had the sense that he was an amazing and mysterious artist. Since Andy Warhol was the leading icon and the most influential artist of their own time, the authors had the opportunity to be close to him and his peers so that they could retrieve more specific and accurate details about Andy Warhol and his career than other authors of Andy Warhol biographies could.

The review published by the Yale University Press by Eleanor Heartney describes the book as a straightforward and journalistic account. Furthermore, Eleanor Heartney applauds the authors for their prodigious number of new interviews by Tony Scherman with surviving participants in the Warhol shooting scene. He describes the book as highly informing and filled with unknown information such as, “…that Up Your Ass With a Meathook, the Solanas script …finally turned up in 1988 nearly 20 years being in storage.10 Overall, he reviewed the book as one of the better biographies covering Andy Warhol’s career and was interested to see how Andy Warhol was portrayed as a copy-cater at times and as person who was gifted with a lot of chance. On the other hand, the second review by Richard Dorment describes the book as a “…fascinating study of Warhol’s rise from commercial artist to the most celebrated painter and filmmaker in the 1960s America.”11 Richard Dorment admires the idea that the authors, Tony Scherman and David Dalton, had portrayed Andy Warhol’s creation of art as a series of mental decisions instead of mindless actions, giving the sense that Warhol was a genius. He also loves the emphasis that the book gave on the shift in Warhol’s career from commercial artist to a fine arts artist. Richard Dorment explains how the book carefully and clearly showed every aspect during Andy’s career and presented him correctly as the complicated and ambitious person he was.

Tony Scherman and David Dalton take an interesting perspective in their book, Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol, on Andy Warhol’s rise to fame. The book is written in a format that is easy to understand and the events are well organized; it starts with a hook telling the reader on how Andy Warhol always avoids questions about his past, then retraces back to his birthplace and a brief summary of his father’s struggles in poverty during adulthood. Later it goes onto Andy’s childhood until his adolescence, the stage where he developed a massive insecurity and need for distance from people due to this random incurable skin disease. Little does the reader know that the insecurity and his embarrassment about his childhood are the dominant reasons for the great artist he became. It is fascinating to see how the two authors can tie certain actions that Andy Warhol does during his road to success with his past. The book still portrays Andy Warhol as a great genius artist, but it also brings out another viewpoint when they claim that Andy Warhol had only been able to start his Pop Art due to the influence from Jasper John. It shows another side of him: awkward, fragile, deeply insecure, immature, unoriginal and lonely. Yet, it also shows his good qualities, such as “devoted, hard-working, strong-minded, ambitious, and naturally gifted.”12 Overall, the book is written well and enjoyable; it is filled with surprises and specific details that it felt like a story, not a biography.

Andy Warhol and his Modernist Art, Pop Art, and Abstractionist Art fit into the history of American Art since his works revolutionized the perspective on art during the twentieth century by showing how simplicity can be genius. Andy Warhol along with a very few others was the leading artist who led the shift from Abstractionist art to Pop Art. His painting style was new, original and never seen before. His paintings also were usually “designed so that people would question art” and what it was by producing absurd paintings inspired by works from low culture.13 He took art, which was exclusive to people of higher class only and made it available to everyone. The works of Andy Warhol were frequently highly controversial and sometimes provocative, showing that there was no limit to art. He was an artist with a truly open mind, and therefore, inspired many other artists to think differently. Andy Warhol was extremely important to American Art because of his revolutionary ideas and unique style he brought into the art industry.

Unlike many other biographies, Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol brings such an interesting and influential character like Andy Warhol to life with a straightforward plot and a comfortable format. Overall, it goes into great depth with his inner character and helps readers understand such a complex person. He was “an outsider among outsiders,” and his unprivileged childhood in poverty “…enraptured by what he couldn’t have inside…” led to his strong ambition and tasteful while flashy style that led him to triumph in his career as an artist.14

1. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. 153
2. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 17.
3. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 1.
4. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 123.
5.  Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 441.
6. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 55.
7. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 149.
9. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 373.
10. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 336.
11. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 48.
12. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 300.
13. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 245.
14. Scherman, Tony. Dalton, David. 431.