How Andy Warhol Worked

Andy Warhol Artwork

Artist Andy Warhol stands outside New York City's Broadway Theatre in May 1984.
Artist Andy Warhol stands outside New York City's Broadway Theatre in May 1984.
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At the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Warhol studied pictorial design under Robert Lepper and was deeply influenced by Lepper's two-year course, "Individual and Social Analysis" [source: The Andy Warhol Museum]. Lepper taught that the artist should depict an object in such a way that it "illustrates the dominant structures of society" [source: Osterwold]. This concept of deriving larger meaning from mundane objects played an important role in Warhol's emerging Pop sensibility.

As a commercial illustrator in the 1950s, Warhol worked in the fashion and advertising industries, designing layouts and making stylized drawings by hand. For a series of shoe drawings made for I. Miller and Sons, Warhol used a "blotted line technique" in which he first sketched the shoe in pencil, the painted over the outline in wet ink. He created the final image by blotting the ink outline onto another piece of paper and then coloring in the shoe with sharp, bright colors [source: Kinsman]. Warhol was proud of his commercial work, which he developed in parallel with his more avant-garde personal style [source: Osterwold].

The emergence of Pop art in the early 1960s was a reaction to Abstract Expressionism, which was the dominating American art movement of the time. Artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and other members of the "The New York School" were creating monumental canvases of unrecognizable shapes or violent explosions of paint. The Abstract Expressionist works were meant to represent the individual artist's psyche and were very emotionally charged [source: Paul].

Warhol and contemporaries like Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist were determined to do the opposite. They wanted to create art that was entirely devoid of emotion and free from human interference. The Pop artists were drawn to printmaking techniques, particularly silk-screening, because of its mechanical, mass-produced effect [source: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History].

During his most production silkscreen period, from 1962 through the early 1970s, Warhol chose both trivial and iconic imagery -- soup cans, Pepsi bottles, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, race riots, disasters, politicians, monuments, the Last Supper -- and gave them all the same mechanized treatment, reducing celebrity, tragedy and religion into consumer commodities [source: Honnef]. You can see examples of Warhol's artwork here.

For Warhol, art was always a communal process. He intentionally played with notions of authorship and authenticity, regularly using assistants to pull his silkscreen prints. He even signed some proofs with the inscription, "This is not by me. Andy Warhol" [source: Kinsman]. The Factory was designed to be no more than an impersonal machine designed to churn out art for mass consumption [source: Honnef].

Warhol is most widely recognized as a visual artist, but he was also a pioneer of avant-garde cinema. We'll discuss Warhol's films in the next section.