When you think of Andy Warhol, it’s likely soup cans come to mind.
That’s reasonable; his joining of fine art and commerce was iconic, rebellious, and immediate. Easily, we slip into his perspective because he trains our eyes on the mundane. And then, the mundane becomes anything but.
Pop art meets you in your life, in aisle five of Safeway with the dish scrubbers and comic books. It makes you stare at a soulless thing and perceive in it a soul.
It’s transformative—but only if you’re in the mood to be transformed.
We’re in the mood, right?
Why not? Like chicken soup, Warhol is always a good idea.
After all, he’s a temporal trickster. The now is always on its way to yesterday, but Warhol’s subjects retain the spark of now-ness. Don’t take my word for it. If you want to see the trickster in action, watch Warhol’s screen tests—silent films shot at close range with 16 frames per second instead of the usual 24.
Under these conditions, a woman brushing her teeth becomes haunting. After a few moments, your mind oscillates between wonder and tedium. It’s just unnerving enough to make the familiar relation between your eyes and mind unfamiliar.
And as seconds turn to minutes, you begin to see that by slowing down the woman’s form, Warhol has made her soul cast a shadow in your space and time.
Was his work a critique on the post-war advertising blitz? A commentary on existentialist boredom? A reaction to the egoic nature of abstract expressionism? Did he manufacture repetitive images in his Factory to represent the artist as a machine?
I don’t care so much. Because beyond all that, Warhol allows us to perceive uncommon depth in common subjects.
And now that we know it can be done, why not do more of it ourselves? Why not look upon the objects and activities that surround us with his artist’s eye? With attention, curiosity, humor, and reverence for what is usually deemed shallow, boring, and mundane. Why not believe all that exists has the potential to inspire?
Lao Tzu wrote a variation of a well-known proverb: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” But what is less known is that when we slow down enough to see our world in its wholeness, a thousand miles’ worth of journey exists in a single step.
Even if that step is inside Safeway.
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