In a world of 24-hour news cycles, viral social media moments and tabloid dominance, Andy Warhol’s belief that we can all achieve 15 minutes of fame is more believable now than ever before. Being famous has become a viable career plan in 2020, with social media algorithms allowing anybody to create a profitable brand overnight. Nothing embodies this more than Tik Tok, an app that serves as a platform for both mindless entertainment and genuine art. However, with an oversaturation of fame-hungry creators, where is the space for genuine artists? Can fame and authentic art go hand in hand, or is the hunger for fame the death of the artist?
Andy Warhol, Architectural Digest
The birth of the influencer
The world of Tik Tok may seem worlds removed from Warhol’s realm of Studio 54 and The Factory, but they mirror each other more than most would like to admit. Whilst Warhol was adamant that he never uttered the infamous quote “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”, his art and image continues to embody what it means to want fame in 2020.
Warhol’s ‘Superstars’, his nickname for the ‘It’ girl muses that littered his films and art, were a who’s who of socialite darlings and party girls. They wanted to be somebodies, very few being famous outside of their status as a muse for Warhol. They were handpicked as people who would capture his audience’s attention and represent the Warhol ‘brand’. In a world where creators can monetise their morning routines and present every moment of their life so that it’s ‘on brand’, this feels comfortably familiar, but before Warhol, the idea of branding yourself was alien.
Andy Warhol at The Factory, Artspace
Warhol and Pop Art
Most will be familiar with Warhol’s instantly recognisable style of Pop art. Richard Hamilton summed up Pop Art in the 1950s as “Popular, Transient, Expendable, Low cost, Mass produced, Young, Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business”; a host of adjectives that could easily be used to describe Tik Tok and its artists. It may seem overly complimentary to describe Tik Tok as a breeding ground for art, but then, contemporary critics were similarly scathing of Pop Art with its celebration of the low brow. Warhol, and other Pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring, made art that embodied popular culture and cultivated trends, just as Tik Tok does today.
Whilst Warhol’s Pop Art prints are what he is most commonly known for today, during the 1960s and 1970s it was his films and photography that most embodied the Warhol brand. The success of Warhol’s branding is probably best embodied in his 1964 avant-garde film ‘Asleep’, a five-hour ‘anti-film’ of his then-lover, John Giorno, sleeping. To capture people’s interest with so little action speaks volumes to his following, and mirrors the adoration and interest follower’s of social media stars have today. Why do millions of people want to watch Charli D'Amelio lip sync to an early 00s pop song? Why did people want to watch five hours of somebody sleeping? Arguably, it’s because people have bought into a brand, and seemingly dull content thus becomes valuable and likeable because the brand is.
Warhol and Edie Sedgwick at a party, Vanity Fair
Warhol and his Tik Tok 'Superstars'
Proximity to Warhol meant a guaranteed level of success and his ‘Superstars’ can arguably be seen as the model for, and the earliest form of, influencer houses. It may seem a tentative link, but the success of D’Amelio draws attention to any in her social remit and they benefit by their association to her. The Hype House thus works on the same model as The Factory, Warhol and D’Amelio are the light that draws the moths to the flame, and the ‘Superstars’ feed the idea that they are wanted and at the centre of a ‘happening’. If Warhol can be celebrated for producing fame, why are we looking down on artists that do the same today? Is being fame-hungry really such a bad thing when it has given us Warhol’s portfolio?
The argument comes down to what you believe art should be. Contemporary critics saw Pop Art and Warhol as trashy and low brow, art for them was meant to be thought-provoking and not easily consumed. When you present art as purely academic, however, you make it unassailable to all people. Warhol gave art back to the people by celebrating the masses and the low brow. Whilst not all Tik Tok creators do this purposely, there is a certain level of irony in the consumption of the content produced on the platform that very much embodies Warhol. Additionally, amongst the sea of badly done lip-syncs and overdone dance videos, there is incredibly self-aware and thought-provoking art that could, and arguably should be, celebrated as Pop Art should be celebrated.
Liz, Andy Warhol, 1965, Tate.org.uk
Warhol on fame
In many ways, the pursuit of fame makes it easy for critics to dismiss the art of Tik Tok, just as they did with Warhol and his Superstars. However, Warhol’s Factory inspired a counter-culture of society and art that is still garnering people’s attention 50 years later. His Superstars embodied a moment in time that he captured to ‘sell’ for generations to come. Candy Darling, the Transgender star of Flesh(1968), lives on in the lyrics of Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wildside and Warhol’s art; Ultra Violet, a muse for Salvador Dali as well as Warhol, and an artist in her own right is remembered in death mainly as a ‘Superstar’; Edie Sedgwick, arguably his most beloved ‘Superstar’, embodied everything The Factory and Warhol stood for and is still a fashion icon of the 1960s. Warhol cultivated a ragtag group of artists and personalities, and it was the later that propelled them all into superstardom.
Candy Darling, Revolverwarolgallery.com
Just as with Tik Tok, it is the personalities that garner people’s attention and the art then follows. That isn’t to say that the most popular creators aren’t talented, or that Darling and Sedgwick weren’t either, but without the personality to back the art, it is hard to imagine that their art would have become so infamous. At the core of Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame is the acknowledgement that people want to feel like they’re a part of something bigger and better than themselves, and they want to feel like they know personalities that live a life like that.
Arguably, that lifestyle and level of public attention are unsustainable. For the ‘Superstars’, excessive living led many to an early grave, Ultra Violet, notable for her lack of drug use, being one of the few to make it past 50. For Tik Tok creators, the quick-paced nature of the app makes it difficult to capture and keep peoples interest on you before it wonders to the next video. It’s understandable then, that the pursuit of fame becomes all-consuming and insatiable, they know they have a sell-by date.
Ultra Violet and Salvador Dali, The New York Times
In many ways, fame is an unhealthy pursuit. Ultra Violet later went on to condemn the excessive lifestyle they lived and glamorised, despite staying away from the most extreme of the party scene herself. Candy Darling, who died at 29 of lymphoma, best embodied that glamorisation of a fast lifestyle when she stated on her deathbed that, “I am just so bored by everything. You might say bored to death. Did you know I couldn't last? I always knew it. I wish I could meet you all again." Yet, in their pursuit of fame, they created genuinely moving and impactful art that changed the world around them.
Tik Tok's 15 minutes
Andy Warhol understood the human need for attention and love that feeds the need for fame and our obsession with it, and he created an empire with that knowledge. By branding himself and his circle, he laid the foundations for social media, influences and the fast-paced world of Tik Tok, an app that embodies Warhol more than any other.
Andy Warhol, ArtNews.com
In many ways, he would have hated it, would have felt that the constant posting and public hunger to consume the artist removed the intimacy and secrecy of what art is meant to be. On the other hand, Tik Tok is living testimony that we can all achieve 15 minutes of fame, for better or worse. If we now hold up Warhol and The Factory as art revolutionaries and people to be admired, why are we still so quick to condemn Tik Tok users, who we are also so eager to consume?
There is still a belief, despite the love for Pop Art, that the low brow and art can’t mix, and that is why we are so quick to brand Tik Tok not as art, but as mindless entertainment. However, if we can come to love and celebrate Warhol, maybe in a decade or two, Tik Tok will be given the ‘respect’ it deserves. After all, can we criticise Warhol, D'Amelio and co for wanting fame, when we are so eager to celebrate them for having 'made it'?