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Radical, mass production, pop-culture, new theories: These phrases have one thing in common. These ideas, beliefs, and ways of life were all trending and thriving during the sixties. It was time of original ideas, contemporary art forms, as well as developing ways of consuming and producing. Warhol, one of the most popular artists during this time, wanted to appeal to these ideas in his art pieces. His prominent work, Golden Marilyn Monroe, was a tribute to Marilyn Monroe after her death in 1962. In addition to an artistic commemoration, this visual work is also a summarization of the effects that society and popular culture had on human kind: both the masses and the notable figures of this time. Set on a gold background with a small silk print of Marilyn’s face lying in the middle of the huge canvas, this piece may just seem too simple to be “real art.” Some, not being aware of its history or meaning, may claim: “I could do that, it’s not special at all!” What makes this piece unique, however, is not the artistic ability or detailed landscape, but the meanings and appeals linked to this iconic image, as well as the history and audience at the time it was released.
To know the piece, one must know the muse herself. Marilyn Monroe was a famous actress and model during the 40’s through 60’s. She was most famous, however, as a popular “sex symbol” during the 50’s. Marilyn was the perfect example of another new invention of modern society: the gloried and idolized celebrity. The viewer see portrayed in Warhol’s color usage. If you look at a lot of artwork from the Byzantine Empire, you see many cases of almost plain gold backgrounds behind holy figures and saints. Warhol’s Monroe work is very reminiscent of that style. The same gold features are set behind the image of a figure head, almost putting Monroe into the place the Virgin Mary once held. Warhol thus shows the trend of god-like statuses that our modern society has put on popular figures and celebrities and how they have become the new center for social worship. In addition to the idolization of famous figures, Warhol was also trying to portray a more personal issue of modern celebrities. Monroe wore a mark, an outward image she would show off to the world. A reputation shielding prying eyes from her true spirit. Warhol showed this characteristic in the bright colors printed on top of the black of the original print. The colors show the outward mask hiding the true colors within.
We must also know the ideas of the time itself. During this century, society was more mechanized than ever before and mass production was at an all-time high. Consumers went from buying uniquely made products from the individual vendor, to mass produced items: identical in all areas of the nation. Socially and Economically, America was becoming an identical people; unified by the merchandise they covet. Warhol displayed this occurrence in many his paintings during this time. One sees this mostly in the repetitive feel of his Campbell’s Cans painting. But even though one does not see any rapidity in his Gold Marilyn, one sees a reference to mass production with his medium. Instead of detailed and time-taking painting methods, Warhol used a method called screen printing. This method involves using silk, glue, and ink to make a sort of stamp or stencil. Being so, this method is reminiscent of factory repetition of stamping labels, stenciling wording onto soup cans, and mass producing images. Indeed, Warhol accurately gets across the transition of culture. Just as uniquely and loving mastering one’s craft as turned into cold metal sliding out “little boxes,” art has turned from vibrant, luscious, detailed images to isolated displays: more product than profession.
Related to this difference in production is the occurrence in the last few centuries of the transfer of artistic interests. Over the many years there had been a revision of artistic intrinsic value: fascinations moved from the valuation of rich country sides and landscapes, as well as portraits and religious pieces, to more abstract ideas. Art evolved into a display of what the artist felt and believed rather than necessarily what they observed. In addition, technique also transferred from being aimed at the upper class, (the rich being most of the commissioners for talented artists,) to the middle and lower classes (which were now what made up the majority of consumers.) Because of this transfer of technique and viewers, Warhol wanted to create something that the general public could connect with, yet also display this simplicity of the more recent modern art movement. By implementing pop-art and well known themes into his work, it was easier for them masses to relate. In addition, having many similarities to the popular comic-book style and coloring as well as iconic image, Marilyn Monroe, Warhol implements many themes that were raved about during this time period. Warhol also, however, shows his mastery of the plain uniformity of modern artistic style, leaving the backdrop nearly formless except for the bust-like capture of Marilyn in the center.
With all its tending ideas, Warhol’s piece become very beloved and well know during the sixties. One might wonder, however, why it was so appealing on first glance. It was the use of automatic rhetorical appeals. Warhol used two of these appeals to draw the viewer’s eye into the meaning of the image. The artist used Pathos, playing on the tragedy and melancholy remembrance of the recently deceased icon to tug at the viewer’s heart strings. Placing Monroe dead center and only using a small portion of the canvas, Warhol added an isolated, lonely feeling to the painting. This gave the passer by even more emotion to connect with. In addition, the use of the art forms almost guilt-tripped the viewer in the issues of the present age: idolization and misrepresentation of iconic figures as well as the loneliness celebrities feel, being only know by their outward mask, alone and isolated in the status they hold. In addition to Pathos, Warhol also uses the Ethos appeal. Firstly because he is well known himself, but secondly by using Monroe with all her fame and credibility. Warhol was not only one of the most well know and well acclaimed artists of his time, but also had much experience in the world of art, graphic design, and marketing. Thus, Warhol was well-versed on the subject he was portraying the image itself.
Many people in our current day and age are less drawn to the golden relic that is Warhol’s piece. But in the sixties, many of the current issues and ideas of the time came into play. The image was stunning and heartbreaking: remembering things long gone, looking forward to the future, challenging things that are, and mourning things that had been lost. In our current time, there is less of a charm. If the viewer, however, looks deep into history and the meaning behind the painting, they will start to see and understand the how society has changed and grown. If one does this, the piece will successfully create deeper thoughts about how people perceive the world and important figures in our society.
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