Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans: Why Is This Art?

Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans: Why Is This Art?


[MUSIC PLAYING] SAL KHAN: We’re looking at
one of the single canvases from a series of canvases
of the Campbell’s Soup Cans, by Andy Warhol from 1962 at
the Museum of Modern Art. And one of the really
important questions that comes up about,
especially modern art is, well, why is this art? SAL KHAN: When you ask me
that, a bunch of things kind of surface in my brain. It does evoke something in me,
so I’m inclined to say yes. But then, there’s a
bunch of other things that say, well, if I didn’t
see this in a museum, and if I just saw
this in the marketing department of Campbell’s
Soup, would you be viewing it differently? STEVEN ZUCKER: Because
it’s advertising. SAL KHAN: Yes. STEVEN ZUCKER: But in
the context of the museum or in the context of Andy
Warhol’s studio, it’s not quite advertising, right? SAL KHAN: Even if it’s
the exact same thing? STEVEN ZUCKER: Yeah. SAL KHAN: And the idea here is
by putting it in the museum, it’s saying, look at
this in a different way? STEVEN ZUCKER:
Well, that’s right. It really does relocate it. It does change the meaning. It does transform it. And that’s really one of the
central ideas of modern art. Is that you can take something
that’s not necessarily based in technical skill,
because I don’t think you would say that this
is beautifully rendered– SAL KHAN: Right. STEVEN ZUCKER: But
it relocates it and makes us think about
it in a different way. SAL KHAN: And so, I
guess he would get credit for taking something that
was very, almost mundane, something you see in
everyone’s cupboard and making it up a focal point. Like, you should pay
attention to this thing. STEVEN ZUCKER: I think
that’s exactly right. And I think that he’s doing
it about a subject that was about as low a
subject as one could go. I mean, cheap
advertising art was something that was so
far away from fine art, from the great masters. And then to focus on
something as lowly as a can of soup– and
cream of chicken no less. Right? [LAUGHTER] SAL KHAN: A lot of it is, if
he did it 50 years earlier, people would have thought
this guy’s a quack, and if you did now, they would
think he was just derivative. I mean, It was
really just that time where people happened
to think this was art. STEVEN ZUCKER: Well, I
think that that’s right. In 1962, what Warhol
is doing is he saying, what is it
about our culture that is really authentic,
and important? And it was about
mass production, it was about factory. He, in a sense, said let’s
not be looking at nature as if we were still
an agrarian culture, we’re now an industrial culture. What is the stuff of
our visual world, now? SAL KHAN: I think I’m 80% there. I remember in college, there
was a student-run art exhibit, and as a prank a
student actually put a little podium there
and put his lunch tray. He put a little
placard next to it. Lunch tray on
Saturday, or something, was what he called it. So he did it as a prank
and everyone thought it was really funny,
but to some degree, it’s kind of sounding like
maybe what he did was art. STEVEN ZUCKER: Well, I think
that’s why it was funny, because it was so close, right? SAL KHAN: And to some degree,
when someone took a lunch tray, and gave it the proper
lighting, and gave it a podium to look at it, and wrote a
whole description about it, I did view the lunch
tray in a different way. I mean, that is kind
of the same idea. Something that’s
such a mundane thing, but you use it
every day– I mean, what would you say to that? Was that a prank
or was that art? STEVEN ZUCKER: Well,
I think it is a prank, but it’s also very close
to some important art that had been made earlier
in the century. He had license to
do that because of somebody named
Marcel Duchamp. In fact, Warhol had, in a
sense, the same kind of license. To not focus on the
making of something, not focus on the brush work,
not focus on the composition, not focus on the
color, but focus on the refocusing of ideas. SAL KHAN: And the reason why
we talk about Warhol or Duchamp or any of these people, is
that, as you said, it’s not like did something
technically profound. Obviously, Campbell’s
Soup’s marketing department had already done something
as equally as profound. It’s more that they
were the people who looked at the world in a
slightly different way, and highlighted that. STEVEN ZUCKER: Well, I
think that that’s right. Warhol’s also very
consciously working towards asking
the same questions that the prankster at
your school was asking. He’s saying, can this be art? And in fact, he’s
really pushing it. Look at the painting
closely for a moment. This is one of
the last paintings that he’s actually painted. He’s really defined the
calligraphy of this Campbell’s. He’s really, sort of,
rendered the reflection of the tin at the top. But then he stopped
and he said, I don’t want to paint
the fleur de lis. You see those little fleur
de lis down at the bottom? I don’t want to paint those. So he actually had a little
rubber stamp made of them, and actually sort of placed
them down mechanically. What does that mean for
an artist then to say, I don’t even want to
bother to paint these. I’m just going to find
a mechanical process to make this easier. Warhol is doing something
I think which is important, which is reflecting the
way that we manufacture, the way that we
construct our world. Think about the things that
we surround ourselves with. Almost everything was
made in a factory. Almost nothing is singular
in the world anymore. It’s not a world that we
would normally find beautiful. SAL KHAN: I don’t know. Sometimes I feel, and
correct me if I’m wrong, that a decision was made
that Warhol was interesting, or great, and then people
will interpret his stuff to justify his greatness. That, oh, look,
he used a printer instead of drawing it, which
shows that he was reflecting the industrial, or whatever. But then, if he’d
done it the other way, if he had hand drawn it, or
hand drawn it with his elbow or, you know, fingerprinted
it or something, we’d say, oh, isn’t
this tremendous? Because normally we would see
this thing printed by machine and now he did it
with his hands. How much do you think
that is the case? Or am I just being cynical? STEVEN ZUCKER: Well,
no, I think that there’s value in a certain
degree of cynicism. And I think that, in
some ways, what we’re really talking about
here is, what does it mean to be an
avant garde artist? What does it mean to, sort of,
change the language of art? And to try to find
ways that art relates to our historical
moment in some really, sort of, direct
and authentic way. SAL KHAN: And you
know, maybe it’s easy for me to say this because
I remember looking at this when I– STEVEN ZUCKER: Sure. SAL KHAN: –took fifth grade
art class, Andy Warhol and all of that. And so, now it seems
almost not that unique, but it’s ’62, what
I’m hearing, is that Warhol was really
noteworthy because he really did push people’s thinking. STEVEN ZUCKER: I think that
Warhol was looking for, in 1962, a kind
of subject matter that was completely
outside of the scope that we could consider fine art. One of his contemporaries,
Roy Lichtenstein, was asked what pop art was. And he said, well, we
were looking for a subject matter that was so despicable,
that was so low, that nobody could possibly believe
that it was really art. And I think you’re right. I think now we look
at it, and it’s so much a part of
our visual culture, that we immediately accept it. But I think it’s really
interesting to retrieve just how shocking and
radical that was. SAL KHAN: This is fascinating. It seems like there’s a
lot of potential there. That stuff that–
it’s pseudo-art made for other purposes,
for commercial purposes, but if you, kind of,
shine a light on it, in the way that a light has been
shown on this, that it does– in your mind, would that cross
the barrier into being art? STEVEN ZUCKER: Well,
I think that, you know you mentioned before,
that if somebody was doing this now– SAL KHAN: Yeah. STEVEN ZUCKER: –it would
feel really derivative. SAL KHAN: Right. STEVEN ZUCKER: And I
think that that’s right. I think it underscores
just how hard it is to find, in our culture
now, ways of making us see the world in new ways. SAL KHAN: Yeah. Fascinating. [MUSIC PLAYING]

local_offerevent_note November 5, 2019

account_box Matthew Anderson


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33 thoughts on “Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans: Why Is This Art?”

  • "Almost everything is made in a factory. […] It's not a world that we normally find beautiful."
    Expanding on Zucker's use of the word "beautiful," I believe that our idea of what is original = art is only one way of judging work. We also tend to view it very superficially when we should be treating it properly for its time. The soup cans aren't original, but the concept is.
    Art meanings change through time. I am personally still undecided about Warhol but I am first trying to educate myself.

  • I remember reading Camille Paglia discussing what constitutes art and stating somewhere along the line that even pornography should be included under that huge, nebulous umbrella. Art can move people in so many ways so why not on that visceral, animal level? If one is moved to comment, even with disdain or dismissal, then it obviously had *some* sort of effect on the viewer. I find most people who pooh-pooh out of hand tend not to have a very evolved or complex definition of "art" to begin with

  • Wow people are narrow minded, but the fact that you are arguing about it means it has succeeded, Duchamp said once that he "discarded brushes and explored the mind more then the hand" Art isn't just craftmanship anymore as youse all seem to wish it is. Art is about making you see the world in a different way, Picasso didn't paint most of his paintings he gave an IDEA a STARTING point and made other people do it for him, it wasnt about the technical ability. This was over 50 years ago by the way.

  • Many of you have Andy Warhol wrong! His whole concept is to mimic pop culture and what is around us and make it art. These soup cans in the video can be art because you can take it to context, for example when looking at them you can think warm, memories of childhood, and also how we see beauty in ordinary things. Warhol is so an artist and genius maybe some people should take an art appreciation class….smh

  • Art SHOULD NOT be taken in a context! this is a deadly misconception of art.

    Art is a capture of a single sobjective nature.
    It ought to put you in an with an aesthetic feeling of the present moment.

    Simply put: The time and place, as well as the maker is totally separate from the piece. The Mona Lisa is not "a late de-vinci": It has it's own life!

    The pieces of Warhol, as well as Newman and Pollok, are being put "into context" because they will die otherwise.

    I say: let them die peacfully

  • The best definition of art (according to Websters Dictionary) is "anything done well".

    So… the fact that Warhol's (by your own admission) attempt to "express a vain, pretentious & lifeless society"… was successful thus done well…. by definition… makes it Art.

    OK go back to sleep.

  • Pseudo art?  You called this PSEUDO ART?!!  Why do people insist upon defining art by using their petty little pseudo art RULES?  Art has to be this way, or art has to be that way.  Rules, rules, rules!!  Break out of your little world of useless rules, doode.  

    Carry on.

  • All is relative about what is your "world",because if you create something by your own, is made by your hands without "mass production" and then is unique…!!!

  • I think Sal is very right to ask his "cynical" questions. Those are questions most of us ask ourselves.
    I much appreciate that they take these kind of works with a bit of doubt and a pinch of salt.

  • A picture of an object can change its meaning depending on its surroundings……the concept itself is art. pff Andy Warhol you are a piece of shit.

  • Nearly all of (if not everything) in the perceivable world is (in essence) art, even advertising – even the ripples on the wood of a tree, the geometry of sand & stones cast across the terrain of a beach, even that mass-produced "fake art" created by mass marketing departments in fast food restaurants is art, and ultimately is only what you make of it. See how the comment button is composed of slightly rounded edges/blue background/white text???? -> even that is art. Some art is man made, other art isn't (created by nature) – some art has an agenda(s), other art doesn't. 🙂

  • When you place a visual focus on everyday things (a soup can, a lunch tray) in order to focus people's attention on that thing outside of its normal usage, that is a low form of journalism, not art.

  • I see this same display of soup cans in my local grocery store. It's not art. This is not art. It's boring and arrogant. I'm Andy Warhol, so I can throw some soup cans together. paint them, and call it art because I"m Andy Warhol and the gullible masses will call it 'profound.'

  • Seems like people are reading too much into a can of soup. I know next to nothing about AW but didn't he work in advertising, doing artwork for products? Maybe he just wanted a job with the Campbell's corporation lol It doesn't seem like a departure for him is my point. It seems like more of the same work he was already doing or had done? I can see a definite style which is i guess the Pop Art style in his artworks…so…it's not for me but he must have done something good.

  • It's magic! I’m a fan of Andy Warhol, I sing his life and his death "Warhol’s Word", played on my channel!

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