I’ve been fascinated by Warhol’s work since I was a kid. I grew up around marketing and advertising – my dad was a very talented graphic designer with his own marketing company, following in the footsteps of my grandfather who did the same thing. Later, my dad went into advertising, which is where Warhol got started. I actually remember going to Warhol’s traveling exhibit with my Dad, which went through the San Diego Museum of Art in 2007 (I think). It was interesting to go through the exhibit with a designer/advertiser. It brought a whole new perspective to the work. As a rather commercial artist, Warhol was fascinated by popular culture institutions like fame, celebrity, beauty, success, entertainment. But not many know of his fascination with business and money.
My only understanding of Warhol’s interest in business is from his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol; From A to B and Back Again. Though it was ghost written by frequent collaborator Pat Hackett, Andy dedicated the book to Pat for “extracting and redacting [his] thoughts so intelligently” (Warhol, dedication). Most of the material was taken from interviews with Warhol himself, so it is indeed his own words.
Warhol’s interest in business is evident in the fact that he dedicates an entire chapter to the subject “Work” (Warhol, 87), where he expresses his desire to be a “business artist” (Warhol, 92), and wrote his famous quote, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art” (Warhol, 92). By 1968 when Andy was shot, he even refers to “The Factory” as his “place of business, Andy Warhol Enterprises” located in a nice office space in the Decker Building at Union Square (Warhol, 91).
Warhol’s philosophy of business is unique. He speaks about common business practices like hiring, delegation, automation, management, sales, efficiency, commercialization – but he speaks about them in a different language. Warhol is famous for wanting people to misunderstand him; he even writes about misunderstanding as one of his main requirements for hiring somebody, “Something that I look for in an associate is a certain amount of misunderstanding of what I’m trying to do” (Warhol, 99). So he may just be joking. But it seems to me that he glamorizes the image of business as corporation (as opposed to money or adding value to people). After WWII, one of the American Dreams was to work for a big corporation and have a secure job. Warhol states that he loved working when he was a commercial artist because all he had to do was what he was told. “When I think about what sort of person I would most like to have on a retainer, I think it would be a boss. A boss who could tell me what to do, because that makes everything easy when you’re working” (Warhol, 96). This is ironic since most entrepreneurs and artists work for themselves, mostly because they appreciate their freedom and independence, but also can’t stand working for somebody else’s goals and dreams. I tried to do what society told me to and get a job, but nobody would hire me. I don’t think this is because of them, I think this is because I would never have been comfortable doing what other people told me to do. I believe most artists feel the same way – that must be why they are artists. But Warhol felt differently. I suppose the priorities of people today have changed because of the economy (no jobs, no security). It may seem selfish, but why work for somebody else’s goals and dreams? Life is short, so do what you love, do what you’re passionate about, pursue your dreams. Again, maybe he was joking, who knows?
This leads me to believe that Warhol’s definition of business is the practice of performing business operations – the hiring, money, payment, management, creating and running the system itself – rather than the more common definition of adding value and creating goods/services that help solve problems. He comments on an interviewer asking him how he runs his business, to which he replies “I don’t really run it, it runs me” (Warhol, 92). Later, he prides himself in having a business that operates on its own(automation & scalability): “I realized that I really did have a kinetic business, because it was going on without me. I liked realizing that, because I had by that time decided that ‘business’ was the best art” (Warhol, 92). This is nowhere near my definition of business, so it intrigues me. It leads me to want to understand more clearly his idea of the art of business. He even refers to “business art” as “the step that comes after art” (Warhol, 92), which proves that he believes business is better than art. I do agree that business must be the step that comes after art in order to use your art for what it’s meant to do: to help people and change the world. To me, this is what it means to be an artist today.
But again… He could be joking, who knows?!
Warhol’s philosophy of money is even more intriguing. His interest in the subject is evident in the fact that he dedicates an entire chapter to the subject “Economics” (Warhol, 125).
He is shamelessly addicted to the pure pleasure of spending money on meaningless products or “impulse purchases.” He happily plays into the seduction of commercialism, which makes sense since he was in advertising. Rather than deeply questioning the institution of money, “What is money? Why do we place so much value on it? Why does it run our society? Is it right to place so much value on it or do we have it all wrong? Is there a better way?” like Boggs or Wagner does, Warhol instead embraces money for what it is: it’s there to be spent! This is even more evident in how he treats money. “I don’t understand anything except green bills” (Warhol, 129). “I am just not happy when I don’t have [cash]” (Warhol, 130). “Checks aren’t money” (Warhol, 130). “I hate PENNIES” (Warhol, 136). “I have it and I have to spend it before I go to sleep” (Warhol, 131).
Warhol's money habits are bizarre! He does not treat money like a businessperson or wealthy person would, definitely not like a safe middle class citizen who does what he/she is told, saves for retirement, etc. But by that time Warhol had so much money, it didn’t really matter how he spent it. His philosophy of money is clearest in the last few sentences of the chapter, “Money has a certain kind of amnesty. I feel, when I’m holding money, the the dollar bill has no more germs on it than my hands do. When I pass my hand over money, it becomes perfectly clean to me.” (Warhol, 137). Warhol worships money.
Want to learn more? Then subscribe!