A Master at Branding
When Warhol first came to New York, he was a commercial illustrator dreaming of becoming a famous artist. He worked for the Mad Men crowd on Madison Avenue and tried to fit in by wearing an ordinary suit. Wow! Can’t even imagine. But everyone starts somewhere and coming to grips with the fact that conformity kills creativity, is all part of the process. As he began exploring himself with honesty and observed the current art culture, Warhol transformed himself into a radically different persona. He wore striped shirts, black turtlenecks, faded jeans, and a blonde (or silver) wig that looked so fake no one could miss it. When the media asked him to explain his art, he responded with short, curt statements that both infuriated and intrigued the media, but would probably create a huge following on Twitter today. Part of Warhol’s genius was that he never denied or became defensive about these accusations. There was no separation between Warhol’s persona and his art. His brand of “eccentric” permeated the way he dressed, worked and spoke. It takes a true spirit to stop at nothing, overcome critics, nasayers and his own battlefield of the mind.
Marketing, for Warhol, was not an extra step but an integral part of his work. He spearheaded todays marketing agenda with his celebrity obsession, collaborations, and repetitive images, objects, and messaging. He built a small group of dedicated followers that in today’s terms, takes on the form of social media and online marketing strategies. Warhol embraced the commercial culture as the central source of imagery for his work. Visuals that were already familiar to the majority of consumers, but morphed. How many marketers do you know can take stuff that you buy at a supermarket and turn it into a commercial enterprise? And then sell it to the public, but make a lot more money from it than from the supermarket shelf? He was a genius. The original designer of the Brillo Box was an abstract-expressionist artist named James Harvey, who traded a fine art background to become a commercial artist and designer. Warhol’s silk-screened adaptation of his Brillo Box began with 17 renditions priced at $200 each. In 2010 one of these original, signed wood boxes sold for 3 million at Christies Auction. Once dismissed and reviled, the Brillo Box came to be recognized as a turning point in the history of art.
The Value is the Idea
Warhol perfected that the idea is everything, decades before it became reality. He thoughtfully chose subjects and people that resonated with him and developed himself around it. The act of choosing the right idea and marketing it, WAS the work of art. He produced work so different from what the art world was used to at the time, that consumers and critics had no choice but to pay attention. He was living proof that an artist can also be a brilliant entrepreneur.