When Andy Warhol produced what is probably his most famous painting, known as Campbell’s Soup Cans in 1962, many people were dismissive. This is not art, they said, this is copying, and he didn’t even paint, he just screen-printed the design. Where’s the skill? No, definitely not art!
But of course it was art and every bit as serious as the work of any other great artist, a Titian, for example, who in his mind sought to envisage the Nativity scene with Mary and Joseph and their newborn child, and to transfer that image onto canvas. Art is observation expressed through a medium, which might be words, or paint or musical notes, or mime, or whatever. In other words, art is consciousness transferred, so all art is, initially at least, conceptual. There can be good and bad art, serious or light art, but art is everywhere, everywhere that human consciousness exists.
But come on, you might say, where’s the art in reproducing an identical image of a can of soup? There are many possible responses to that. But the one that strikes me as the most plausible is that Warhol, in a humorous way, wanted to draw our attention to the fact that although nowadays we live in a highly designed world, our preoccupations differ very little from the preoccupations of our artist ancestors, those who decorated the walls of their cave in Altamira with images of the food they hunted for survival: an iconic deer or buffalo enclosed in its skin over the course of the millennia has become today’s ox-tail soup enclosed in a can. Technology does not destroy human appetites it merely alters the delivery of the product to be consumed. The modern mass production of images is made possible through technologies that can turn out millions of identical portraits of Marilyn Monroe or Marlon Brando, or of you and me. It was playing around with these ideas that I came up with the primitive design for what I call the Warhol Soup Can. Is it art? Course not. Just me having a bit of fun!