The Warhol Effect and the Anti-Warhol Effect

Posted by on December 13th, 2009 at 9:47 PM

Every so often I will see something elsewhere on the site that will make me stop, take notice, and say “Hey, wait just a goddamned minute.”  Such as the following:

This is precisely the kind of experience that “sublime” signified from its origins, an overpowering experience like the Alps or the Grand Canyon or Chartres or Beethoven’s Choral Symphony that makes poignant the finiteness and pathos of the self-enclosed, self-immersed ego.

And what I think when I read this is that the self-immersed ego must take a hell of a beating, because five million boobs gawp at the Grand Canyon every year.  It’s like a conveyor belt, and the next stop is often Las Vegas, where the self-immersed ego can contemplate the finiteness and pathos of a month’s wages after they’ve been lost at the crap tables.  And the Alps draw something like 15 million a year, because there are a lot of Alps, and Chartres draws 200,000 a year, because there isn’t quite so much Chartres, and the only piece of classical music that’s more susceptible to kitsch-ification than Beethoven’s Choral Symphony is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  (Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the most notable rival in this area, isn’t susceptible to kitsch-ification because it was kitsch to begin with.)

This goes to show that for every Warhol Effect there is an Anti-Warhol Effect.  The Warhol Effect refers to the phenomenon of cultural artifacts created for no purpose other than making a buck can have the weight of bona fide art.  As a writer about comics I write about little else.  I call it the Warhol Effect because it was most effectively illustrated by Andy Warhol when he demonstrated that you could take a commonplace commercial design, mount it on the wall as a work of art, and it could stand up about as well as anything else in the gallery.  The first impulse is to see Warhol as a naked emperor when in reality he was the little boy who sees the emperor is naked.  (My favorite Warhol appears at first to be a small color field painting consisting of a black stripe between two blue stripes.  As you get close to it you realize it’s the side of a match box.)  More to the point here is the Anti-Warhol Effect, which will sound far less cutesy if you pronounce anti aunt-eye.  The Anti-Warhol Effect is the commercial sphere’s uncanny ability to take works of art or wonders of nature that are sublime as may be and reduce them to their exploitable elements.  This is why the references of advertising will often be far more sophisticated than the entertainment material that surrounds it.  Anyone can be gobsmacked but the sublime is not going to molest you unless you’ve been trained or trained yourself to comprehend it.

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