Monday, August 10, 2009
Desperately Seeking Connections, part 1: Andy Warhol is in the building
Desperately Seeking Connections, part 1:
Andy Warhol is in the building
By Tom Wachunas
I was recently perusing a collection of Warholisms and was struck by how neatly, decades after they were uttered, they embody much of the spirit and content of our cultural consciousness today. Here’s one: “I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.” Here’s another: “Isn’t life just a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?” And another: “When I got my first TV set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships.” And for good measure, referring to his own now iconic statement about everyone achieving fame for 15 minutes: “I’m bored with that statement. My new line is, ‘Everybody will be famous IN 15 minutes.’”
Impish, eccentric, maddeningly both transparent and enigmatic, self-aggrandizing with just a dash of megalomania…that was Warhol. And with all due respect to the Pop Art he hurled – with a lot of help - into the canon of art history, a picture of a soup can hanging in a museum may one day ultimately be viewed as nothing more than his last laugh at our expense (I can dream, can’t I?). It’s nearly impossible to know when to take a man seriously when he tells you, as Warhol did without so much as a smirk, that people never die so much as “just go to department stores.” Wherever he is, I suspect he’s engaged in lively banter with Marcel Duchamp as they chuckle over R. Mutt’s urinal. But sorting through Warhol’s legacy of challenging if not absurd pronouncements reveals – it scares me just a little bit to say - a hauntingly prophetic mind.
Blame Warhol – or thank him – for the collective mind-set that has given rise to what we could call Cyberego. In stroking the keypad and mouse, we can, momentarily anyway, stroke our egos. Manipulating a modicum of internet procedures and sites, “ordinary” people can potentially acquire instant regional if not world-wide notoriety for all manner of dubious “accomplishments” and “ideas.” Certainly, though, not everyone creates a blog, or signs on to Face Book or My Space with the intention of getting famous. Most do it simply to “connect.” As the pastor of my church recently and rightly noted, humans are naturally “wired” to seek relationships with each other. Judging from the many millions of people who engage the internet to “communicate,” we seem desperate to gaze and gawk, or chat, tweet, cluck, and click. But it can be a problematic cure for that desperation. Cyberego is such that it allows us to fool as well as be fooled. We can eavesdrop on strangers’ musings both profane and profound, silly and serious, and decide whether we want to “be a friend” or “follower,” or not, and then decide which, if any, face we will release into cyberspace. Impish, eccentric, maddeningly both transparent and enigmatic, self-aggrandizing with just a dash of megalomania…this is us.
I guess where all this is leading is, among other things, to my doubts as to the authenticity and, yes, meaning of an enterprise that seems terribly consumerist and consuming. I fear I’ve been looking too long at this particular thing. Andy said there’d be days like this. Which is all very ironic, seeing as how you have right in front of you ample evidence of my own devoted connection to connecting. Suffice to say that for now just trust me. Part 2 of this entry, whenever I get around to it, will clear things right up. At least I hope so. In fact, I’m desperate.
Photo: “Campbell’s Soup Can,” 1964, by Andy Warhol, 35 ¾” x 24”, silkscreen on canvas