Monday, November 10, 2014

Don't go canonizing Andy Warhol...

"Christ $9.98 (negative and positive)" (1985-6) - Warhol*

Gay mythology.

This is exactly how it happens, online, in books, in film, back online, on the editorial page, in the Arts section of the NYT's, and so on.  A story gets repeated, a legend is built - even by well meaning deacon's wives seeking to reconcile gay with Catholic - even if unintentionally.  I'm not sure what Kathy Schiffer was thinking with her post.  Andy Warhol a role model?  Maybe she was just eager to have something published on another website?  Stories like these get recycled in new and old media, over and over and over - until they become part of the collective memory and can no longer be refuted, or until some kernel of truth is extracted to lend credibility to the whole story.


Andy Warhol - a celibate Catholic?  He sure was - he never married, and remained a Catholic all of his life.  Warhol had a lot of problems - none beyond the reach of divine mercy, that is for sure, but he had issues.  I've written about it before.

Andy wasn't a model Catholic, but he may have been a 'faithful' Catholic - in a non-actively-participating way.

Fact is, he really was gay and Catholic, before the hairsplitting on what all of that means began to be taken seriously, and subsequently sanitized and legitimized and normalized. Pier Vittorio Tondelli was a gay Catholic too - faithful by the time he died - before, not so much.

People: gay people who are Catholic, remain Catholic, even if they do not practice the faith or live in sin.  Those whose conscience has been formed correctly do not try to say a sin is not a sin. Homosexual orientation is not a sin of course - but the behavior is. Some people who are active homosexuals are like that - hence they stay away from the sacraments. In doing so they do not say the behavior is not sinful - they know it is - and they know that they cannot act out and be a faithful Catholic. And in a very real way - they are faithful in that. Tondelli was like that until his actual conversion, and so was Warhol - to an extent. For all of the issues within the manufactured reality and public persona of Warhol, he remained Catholic - and most likely 'unintentionally' celibate. But chaste? Like a virgin?  That may be what he said.

Perhaps what may be most notable about Warhol is that he did not try to promote homosexuality as something good or equal to heterosexual love and marriage. He did not try to promote sinful behavior as virtuous. In that respect he perhaps can be called a 'proud sinner' - although sitting at the back of the church during Mass pretty much cancels out any pride aspect.  It should be noted that at the time homosexuality was not yet as socially acceptable as it is today, and even then the jet-set tried to maintain a facade of decorum.

His work didn't elevate culture.

Warhol influenced marketing, art, and the 'revolution'... and still does.  I've always appreciated his creative innovation - but I have to wonder if he was more a marketing genius and display-queen than artist. I also thought he was putting everyone on - playing with society and watching everyone make a fool of themselves. He was an observer. He was a documentarian. While seeming to be the antithesis of culture and high society, he craved to be a part of it, the superstar of it all - and of course he achieved that. In fact, he invented the term superstar.

Although he never did drugs, and remained pretty much asexual - save for the eroticism of his art - the pop star sub-culture he created was steeped in deviant behavior. Like a voyeur/provocateur, he documented that - hence the attraction and strange validation his admirers and fans experienced.

Yet I think his work (and he was a hard and prodigious worker) holds a legitimate place in the history of art. He created - and through his creations, changed a culture - or at least, contributed to its change. He broke through barriers with an anarchist's fervor. He documented the precipice of our decline into depravity and amoral behavior. He reflected the narcissism and consumerism of the culture in his art. His art did nothing to elevate the human spirit, rather it denigrated it, or more precisely, brought the superficiality and decay of our society to our attention and glamorized it. In the end, he achieved what he set out to do, he became famous - not for 5 or 15 minutes, but forever - or as long as art exists. His work, in my opinion, is and remains an art form - not unlike the erotic art of ancient civilizations. 

Defining deviancy down.

Dawn Eden had something to say about the Warhol mythology as well.  Two years ago Dawn wrote an insightful post: Defining deviancy down: Andy Warhol as an 'intentionally' celibate Catholic?  Her title says it all!
If you want to praise Andy Warhol for his daily Mass attendance, or for anything else he did to practice or show respect for Catholic faith, I will gladly join you. But don’t tell me that Andy Warhol was not “a proud sinner,” as Barnes seems to say, let alone that he was “intentionally celibate.” To make such a claim goes against the Church’s constant teaching, in the words of Augustine, that “the virtue which makes the life good has its throne in the soul, and thence rules the members of the body, which becomes holy in virtue of the holiness of the will” (City of God, I.16). A “celibate” person who encourages others to commit sexual violations is no celibate at all. - Dawn Eden
For sure, Dawn Eden knows what she is talking about.

* "Christ $9.98 (negative and positive)" (1985-6).  I used this piece by Warhol because a similar image may be found in his 1970 film Trash.  I've always thought aspects of the film were autobiographical to some extent.  A sex scene takes place in a creepy guy's apartment, where he has a kitschy shrine to the Sacred Heart, flashing lights and so on.  Pretty much like the image shown here.  Warhol probably suffered from sexual deviancy all of his life, a conflict made more intense because of a haunting religiosity he was unable to reconcile with the world he created for himself.  In the end, I hope he found the peace he craved in and through the sacraments he needed.

The sacraments of the Church are there for all, especially fallen Catholics, to find reconciliation and peace - Warhol's life is an example insofar as it shows the conflict and depravity which results when we reject that.  The sacraments are more than enough - they are the means to salvation.  In fact, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the preeminent sign of welcome - not donuts and coffee.


  1. Very interesting post, Terry. Never had much time for Warhol -- couldn't get past his Campbell's soup can. I always wanted to holler, "The Emperor has no clothes!" whenever I saw it. I think you pegged it when you said he was a marketing genius. Anyone who can sell the graphic work of someone else as art definitely has a flair for marketing. What is it they say about a person who can sell anything? Warhol could sell wood to a forest.

    As for the "shrine" in the movie, did you ever notice that almost every palm reader's storefront has statues of the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the window? It just makes me shake my head. But it's all about marketing and creating the illusion of moral rightness for unrighteous action. (If it's not outright mockery like Madonna and her religious jewelry.)

    1. I would only want a Warhol to sell it.

    2. Terry, that's my photo you are using as your cover. See my remarks about finding this abandoned church in 2005 on the road from Suzdal to Yaroslavl: Please credit me Mary Lowell, Hexaemeron administrator.

  2. I never thought much of Warhol's art, but perhaps that's because I haven't seen any originals. There's an exhibit currently in town and my parents went. My mom said that that multicolored Marilyn Monroe made her nearly cry; Warhol captured the tragedy of Monroe's objectification in that work. There were certainly a good number of famous works that I always wondered what people saw in them until I went to Europe and saw the originals and loved them; perhaps that would be the case with much of Warhol's work too.

    Funny how so many artists seem to live the Hound of Heaven poem - Warhol, Wilde, Dali, among others.

  3. Song for this post, here:

    I saw the Warhol exhibit at the Walker. Meh. Or was it at the MIA?

  4. Terry, that's my photo you are using as your cover. See my remarks about finding this abandoned church in 2005 on the road from Suzdal to Yaroslavl: Please credit me Mary Lowell, Hexaemeron administrator.

    1. So sorry Mary - I didn't know about crediting and stuff when I used it - took it off Google without checking. My bad! I removed it and replaced it with an old header. Again - I'm sorry.


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