A Shift of Consciousness in American Culture
By: Jessica Weston
Amidst the political tumult of 1968 a drastic shift occurred in both art and media toward a more overtly banal state of mind. Mass media works to reflect this by encompassing the idea of the common, everyday attitude within society. This change in American culture came as an inevitable result of the direction of Western culture because of technology’s impact on our ever-increasing individualistic lifestyles, and can be seen in its extreme within American suburbia. One of the most prominent artists working in 1968 was Andy Warhol. Warhol was, and continues to be, recognized for his work in many areas of the art world encompassing mediums such as film, photography, and painting. Two of his most common works are the silk-screened Marilyn and the 100 Campbell’s soup cans. This growth towards more banal and politically outspoken artwork/media can still be seen as a prominent force in Western culture today.
During his lifetime, Andy Warhol had an uncanny way of predicting the future. One of his most famous quotes, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,” displays one aspect of this talent. Even though he was unaware of the exact results that would develop from technology, such as the Internet, he was still able to formulate an accurate idea of the direction society was headed. The Internet has created easy access to worldwide recognition with sites such as youtube.com and innumerable blogs where people from any corner of the world can express themselves, and occasionally win fame, however small the following may be. Warhol stepped outside the box of most artists to create focus on reflecting and overemphasizing the obsessions of American society through his artwork.
His Death and Disaster Series was completed as a response to our culture’s obsession with violence. The photograph from one of his works, Green Car Crash, was taken from an issue of Newsweek Magazine that he read and then manipulated in a repetitive manner as a painting in green hues. The image is of a man hanging from a pole that he was thrown onto in the car crash (he died 35 minutes later) with the crashed car next to him. Apart from the dying man hanging from the pole, what makes this image so powerful and morbid is the background of a house in what looks to be suburban America and a man walking on the other sidewalk as if nothing is happening. He had a knack at pointing out
America’s obsessions with such force and extreme bluntness that appalled his audience. But this initial shock could be reinforced by the truth behind how these images are what people in America seemed to desire. From violent videogames, movies, and media crime scenes, this lust for violence – even though from a removed perspective – can be seen as a playing an unmistakable role in today’s society.
1968 proved to be an important year for Warhol in creating an increased personal investment in the role of violence. On June 3, Warhol was shot three times by Valerie Solanas (a mere acquaintance who was working on a film project for him at the time) in his own studio, the Factory. When giving her reasoning to the police, Solanas, a member of the feminist group Society for Cutting Up Men, claimed that “he had too much control over” her life. Even though he survived this shooting to live for almost two more decades, he was hospitalized for days and was in bed for several weeks. This violence that was surrounding Warhol, and everyone in society, during the 1960s made an extremely strong impact on him because of this personal act of violence that almost cost him his life.
Several artists today have been influenced and/or affected by Warhol’s movement. He worked to open doors that no one else seemed to have the courage to approach. Warhol reintroduced the idea of having a factory to work in for artists. Today there are several factories throughout Chelsea, Soho, and other highly artist populated neighborhoods. This concept was not one discovered by Andy, but instead re-popularized, as it had been out of practice for around 100 years. Andy Warhol influenced artists such as Jeff Koons and Roe Ethridge who are still working today. From his work with film he also impacted experimental and cult cinematographers such as Michel Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep.
Warhol’s art in general has created an ongoing debate over whether it can even be considered art. This is because he often took photographs from other artists in the media scene and manipulated them to overemphasize how absurd America’s obsessions were. He would also photograph objects, such as the Campbell’s Soup Can and repeat the image to help highlight his point. Many people see his simplistic schemes and ideas and use them against him because they figure they could create this so-called “art”. But Andy Warhol was the prominent figure in creating the step toward reflecting on the common images and fixations of society that can still be seen today in everyday images and media. Among all this debate Warhol was able to see and digest the world around him, and through that lens he projected what would come to play prominent roles in future generations.