Paper 1: Defining Contemporary Art
There is no one, simple absolute answer when it comes to defining what is Contemporary Art. In its most basic explanation, Contemporary Art refers to art created and produced “today.” However, what constitutes “today” may be different from person to person. This is why Contemporary Art is so difficult to define, because there is not one defining style or movement assigned to this category. This is in stark contrast to the rigid artistic styles pre-dating the Contemporary Art movement such as; Renaissance, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, and Realism. Contemporary art allowed the artist to express and reflect their own personality in their work, and how they wanted to depict that personal representation. From this new sense of freedom in content, medium, as well as technique, stemmed several new movements and styles. From modernism, a period which focused on the abstract, to postmodernism, a period when artists started to challenge the definition of the term “art” itself. It is because of this that I have always been especially fascinated with this postmodern era of Contemporary Art, Andy Warhol being one of my favorite artists in any time-period.
Andy Warhol, a name that’s synonymous with contemporary art. Warhol’s given name was Andy Warhola, being born on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to his working class Carpatho-Rusyn (today’s northeastern Slovakia) immigrant parents, Andrej and Julia Warhola. The Warhola Family were devout Byzantine Catholics, and had three sons, Andy, John, and Paul, with Andy being the youngest. On February 22, 1987, due to complications from gull bladder surgery Warhol died.
As a young boy Warhol was afflicted by Sydenham chorea, commonly referred to as St. Vitus dance, which is a neurological disorder causing involuntary movements. On occasion, these involuntary movements would get so bad that he would be bed ridden. Growing up in a working-class family during Depression-era Pittsburg, Warhol had few luxuries, so to pass the time he would read comics and Hollywood magazines, playing with paper cutouts that he got from those publications. Recognizing Andy’s talents for the arts, his father started saving money, so he could attend the Carnegie Institute of Technology, which is now Carnegie Mellon University, from 1945-1949. Receiving a degree in pictorial design, Warhol dropped the “a” from his family name and moved to New York City to follow his dream of having a successful career as an artist. Warhol’s view and approach to art vastly differed from the most well-known artists of the time, with Warhol writing in THE Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” Because of this unique approach to art, he did not limit himself to just one medium, constantly experimenting with different techniques, not just in illustrations, but also in publishing, film, music, production, television, fashion, and theatre. He soon became an award-winning illustrator known for his blotted-line ink technique, a method he created that introduced basic printmaking into the mainstream art world. Warhol would go on collaborating and producing works for companies such as Glamour and Vogue magazine, Tiffany & Co., Columbia Records, I. Miller Shoes, as well as many more over the years. As successful as he was as a commercial illustrator, this is not what iconized Warhol, it was his work and contribution to the pop art movement. Pop artists drew their inspiration from everyday life, with their source material being mass-produced products and the commercial aspects that were taking over daily life. It was in 1961 that Warhol started on the path of his legacy, creating his first pop paintings. Drawing from his bed-ridden experiences as a child the works were based on comics and ads, the most notable being Coca-Cola . The composition of Coca-Cola  was hand drawn and painted by Warhol, which combined the popular approach to art at the time, abstract expressionism, with the new source material of pop culture. Then in 1962 he started experimenting and working with his most notable style, photographic screen printing famously quipping “I want to be a machine”. Warhol’s technique using silkscreen printing, allowed him to easily create and reproduce commercial images derived from pop culture. The print-style look of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Coca-Cola , conveyed his unique ability to combine art and commerce. Some of his most iconic silkscreen works were not just commercial products, such as Coca-Cola bottles and Campbell’s Soup Cans, but also include celebrity portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor. Over the course of his career Warhol would go on to produce thousands of prints, taking full advantage of the system he had created.
His perspective of the future was quite astonishing to me. Warhol was able to recognize the fundamental shift and evolution in our society, which started to focus towards efficiency and looking for inspiration and role models from pop culture, realizing his expression “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. This idea could not hold truer today with the rise and dominance of social media. In today’s world, what is more prevalent to contemporary art than the popular culture that is generated and shared through applications and websites such as; Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Google, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Pinterest, and countless other apps that have consumed our daily lives.