Andy Warhol: An Artistic Life, Research Paper Example

According to Arthur C. Danto, the American artistic revolution that occurred in the early to middle years of the 1960’s would not have been possible without Andy Warhol who through his artistic output achieved historical importance as a true American artistic icon. This iconic status was mostly based on the content, themes, and motifs of Warhol’s art which “drew directly from. . . the forms of life lived by Americans” in relation to food, music, the movies, and mass culture. 1

In this respect, Andy Warhol was responsible for creating a new sub-genre of American art, most often referred to as “Pop Art,” such as shown through his numerous paintings, drawings, and prints of common, ordinary objects and famous and infamous persons that most Americans can recognize almost immediately. But what most Americans and foreign art critics remember best about Andy Warhol is his odd lifestyle which in many ways symbolized the true American non-conformist genius.

Since the life and times of Andy Warhol is so complex and exhaustive, we will only focus on those aspects of his biography that pertain to his art, his artistic approaches, and his paintings and prints that best illustrate his remarkable career. As noted by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Andrew Warhola, born on August 6, 1928 in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, remains today as “one of the most influential figures in contemporary art and culture,” and although his life came to a rather tragic end in 1987, his life and work continues to inspire “creative thinkers worldwide, thanks to his enduring imagery, his artfully cultivated celebrity, and the ongoing research of dedicated scholars.” 2

Perhaps for most Americans, Warhol is best remembered for a pithy saying that turned out to be quite accurate–“Everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,” 3 a reference to the mass media which during Warhol’s latter years as an artist was just beginning to infiltrate every aspect of American culture and which today has made it possible for “everyone” to be famous via the Internet and especially YouTube. But as an artist, Warhol’s “omnivorous curiosity resulted in an enormous body of work that spanned every available medium” and which helped to lower the wall between “high art” and its opposite, namely, commercialized and popular “low art.” 4

                Not surprisingly, Warhol came from a very humble background as the youngest of three sons. His parents, Andrej and Julia Warhola, were immigrants from Czechoslovakia and like so many of their European contemporaries that passed through Ellis Island in the early 1920’s were desperately poor. As Joanne Mattern relates, the Warhola family resided in a tiny house that lacked indoor plumbing; Mr. Warhola worked as a miner in the coal fields of Pennsylvania, while Mrs. Warhola “cleaned houses and made metal flowers out of tin cans” for extra household money. She also spent considerable time with young Andy drawing pictures which might have influenced him as an artist and his penchant for non-masculine artistic themes and images. 5

Warhol’s first encounter with the world of art occurred in 1945 when he attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology where he majored in pictorial design or the graphic arts. After graduating, he relocated to New York City and quickly found “steady work as a commercial artist working as an illustrator for several magazines” like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and the prestigious New Yorker. Warhol also was involved in advertising and created “window displays for retail stores such as Bonwit Teller and I. Miller. 6

By the early 1950’s, Warhol had been recognized for his artistic inclinations which resulted in his first solo art exhibition in 1952 at the Hugo Gallery with “Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote.” At about the same time, he began to incorporate photo-based techniques in his paintings which then led to a showing of his art at the Museum of Modern Art in 1956. 7

By the late 1950’s, Warhol had established himself as a gifted artist and decided to make New York City his permanent home and as the location for his studio. As Danto points out, this period in Warhol’s artistic career has been called by many as the “Birth of Andy Warhol,” meaning that it represented “a set of changes in Warhol’s identity” and as the “breakthrough” by which he became an icon.” 8 These changes in Warhol’s identity as an artist and as a human being were timed perfectly, for he was now ready to enter an artistic period unlike any other before or since–the 1960’s which truly “ignited an impressive and wildly prolific time in Warhol’s life.” 9

For anyone who is familiar with Warhol as an artist during the 1960’s, this period “saw the production of many of his most iconic works” and served as the proverbial door for the creation of “Pop Art” through which Warhol utilized “everyday consumer objects as subjects” for his paintings. Perhaps the most famous is the iconic Campbell’s soup cans which Warhol once remarked was done because he “wanted to paint nothing. I was looking for something that was the essence of nothing, and that was it.” Soon after, other iconic images that are now part of the Warhol staple of artistic renditions came along, such as his montages of the doomed Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe, American dollar signs (a metaphor for American capitalism and consumerism), and the Coca Cola bottles which exemplified mass consumerism and the American corporate world. 10

In the early to mid 1960’s, Warhol exploded as an American artist and non-conformist icon of the “Pop Art” world. Some of his most memorable and recognized artistic creations of this time included “box sculptures” of the traditional Brillo Pads and Heinz Ketchup boxes; he also commenced to work in completely divergent areas, such as record producing with the rock band the Velvet Underground, headed by guitarist and poet Lou Reed, magazine publishing, and avant garde filmmaking with titles like Chelsea Girls, Blow Job, and Empire which today are seen as classics of the avant garde movement. However, in 1968, Warhol’s life took a turn for the worse when Valerie Solanis, “a periodic Warhol Factory visitor and sole member of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) walked into the Factory and shot Warhol.” Fortunately, Warhol survived this attempt on his life which may have played a major role in his physical health which continued to deteriorate for the next twenty years. 11

Despite being shot and almost dying, Andy Warhol remained active as an artist and American iconoclast. Ironically, the almost fatal attempt on his life at the age of forty served as a springboard for his “cunning ability to seamlessly infiltrate the worlds of fashion, music, media, and celebrity.” 12 In effect, Warhol became the American symbol for popular culture by utilizing his vast powers as an artist to express himself in a wide range of genres and styles.

Along with serving as the editor-in-chief and publisher of Interview Magazine, Warhol appeared on some popular American TV programs like Love Boat and in the mid 1970’s was one of the first artists to incorporate computers into his artistic creations. He was also commissioned to do album covers for the rock band the Rolling Stones and other popular bands of the 1970’s. Truly, Warhol’s expansive imagination and influence in pop culture knew no bounds, for he also co-produced several short films for the ever-popular TV show Saturday Night Live and produced Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes and Andy Warhol’s TV which appeared on MTV. At this time, some of Warhol’s most popular artistic works included a series of drawings and silk screens known Skulls, Guns, Camouflage, Mao, and The Last Supper. 13 One of these works, a screenprint on white paper, was simply called Flowers which harkens back to the days when young Andy drew pictures of flowers with his mother in Pittsburgh while skipping school for almost two years.

In 1987 at the age of fifty-nine, Andy Warhol died as a result of gall bladder surgery at New York Hospital. Although it has never been confirmed, Warhol’s death was certainly linked to the attempt on his life in 1968 which left him unable to work as an artist for several years. Also, Warhol was by his nature a frail and delicate person, much like the flowers he drew on so many occasions for his friends and admirers. As of today, the city of Pittsburgh, the place of his birth in 1928, has established the Andy Warhol Museum, and as the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts notes, “through the ongoing efforts of (this) institution, Andy Warhol remains not only a fascinating cultural icon, but an inspiration to new generations of artists” on a global scale and stands today as perhaps the quintessential symbol of American ingenuity and non-conformity. 14

                Recall that pithy saying about everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes? Andy Warhol had much to say about being famous, not only as an artist but also as a human being. In The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: A to B and Back Again, Warhol makes the following observation–“Being famous isn’t all that important. If I weren’t famous, I wouldn’t have been shot for being Andy Warhol. A good reason to be famous though is so you can read all the big magazines and know everybody in the stories.” 15 Thus, even though Andy Warhol did not think much of being famous, he nonetheless is today and shall remain so for many decades to come.


Andy Warhol: Paintings, Biography, Chronology, Quotes. 2013. May 6, 2013.

Danto, Arthur C. Andy Warhol. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

Mattern, Joanne. Andy Warhol. Edina, MN: ABDO Publishing Company, 2005.

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. 2013. May 6, 2013.

Warhol, Andy. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: A to B and Back Again. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 1975.


  1. Andy Warhol (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), x.
  2. “The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.” 2013. May 6, 2013.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Andy Warhol (Edina, MN: ABDO Publishing Company, 2005), 8.
  6. Andy Warhol: Paintings, Biography, Chronology, Quotes. 2013. May 6, 2013.
  7. “The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.”
  8. Danto, 1.
  9. “The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.”
  10. Ibid.
  11. Andy Warhol: Paintings, Biography, Chronology, Quotes.
  12. “The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.”
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 1975), 78.