NYC Museums | Andy Warhol, The Whitney | Apollo Fields Wedding Photography
Most of my trips to modern art museums are filled with artful dances around statuesque ponderers and remembering to check the arch of my eyebrows as my eyes learn what’s in in fashion right now. With each brightly colored cube, broken television set, or inflatable animal made of metal, my mind is thrown into a metaphysical whirlwind at the hands and mercy of Dadaism and all of its absurdist descendants. Trying to make sense of art when conventional aesthetics is thrown out the window is like walking through a busy foreign marketplace – you know something is being said, you just have no idea what it is. It’s an uncomfortable feeling until you stumble across a piece that makes you stop and tilt your head at different angles as you try to understand a language you do not yet know.
The piece in the background at the top of this post was from my most recent trip to the Andy Warhol exhibit at The Whitney in New York titled Before and After. It’s been said that it’s Warhol’s self-criticism of his own plastic surgery, while others remark that the original magazine advertisement that Warhol borrowed from was inherently anti-Semitic and that that was his intent. It makes me think that perhaps the most beautiful (or tragic) thing about modern art is that we don’t have to understand the intent of the artist and that we can create an entirely new meaning of our own. As I wandered through Warhol’s life of work, I began to learn more and more about the man behind the Campbells can – and to my surprise, something about the lens through which I view the world as well.
When I saw Warhol’s Before and After it made me think of the world of appearances of social media. It made me think, “this is the way we all want to look” (the person on the right), but in reality most of us look like the person on the left. It made me think that perfection is a fiction we want so badly to be true that we curate our lives into Snaps and Instas. That with every filter and post we draw further from reality and the sanity that comes with embracing the hooked-nose image staring back at us in the mirror. Who knows what Warhol actually meant but that’s how it made me feel.
I realized that good art gives you a license to create. It makes you think, but above all it validates all of the crazy ideas that run through your head. If before the Campbells print became famous, Warhol were try to explain that idea to someone else, it would’ve sounded asinine. And perhaps it is. But because Warhol bypassed the potentially paralyzing explain-the-craziness-inside-your-head-to-someone-else-stage of creation, we have a piece of art that makes us, or at least me, sit and think for a second. It eventually spurred me to organize my thoughts and put them onto this paper.
I guess the lesson is that perfection is a fiction and I prefer to live in reality. When I stood like any of the other entitled museum-goers at Warhol’s Before and After I immediately liked the image on the right more. You can’t help the urge to like what is aesthetically more pleasing, but learning to accept and appreciate our imperfections confronts the real rather than filtering it out.