Warhol loved making works based on other people’s art. Sometimes, he got sued for it. Other times, he riffed on works well within the public domain.
Warhol’s painting Raphael Madonna-$6.99 is hard to miss. It’s 14 feet tall, and hangs alone on an entire wall of the Warhol Museum’s 4th floor.
The silkscreen painting is a recent addition to the 4th floor art. It was hung last month in preparation for the exhibit Revelations featuring Warhol’s religious artwork. The painting is so large, it cannot be stretched and cleaned inside of the museum’s Conservation Studio. It had to be hung up in the two-story tall gallery in order to receive its first conservation treatment in 26 years. The conservator spent ten days cleaning the surface of the painting from a scaffold, using a tool the size of a q-tip.
There’s a couple of prevailing opinions about the significance of the 6.99. The one that I stand by is that Warhol saw the painting on display in Dresden. Then he saw the poster for sale with the price sticker on it, and decided he liked that one even better.
Fun fact: while Warhol’s painting was being cleaned, a LOT of people asked me if we were “finishing painting it” for him.
Recently, I’ve been working as a Gallery Attendant at The Andy Warhol Museum.
It’s a lot like working as a Parking Attendant. If the cars were worth millions of dollars. And never moved.
I spend a lot of time staring at Warhol’s art. Enough time staring at art while thinking about my own art, and the influence seeps through. Sometimes pretty directly.
Warhol made hundreds of screen tests. Short film reels of people sitting in front of a camera trying to act naturally. He’d slow the film down, play it back, and call it art. You can do it yourself in the museum, and watch the results online.
I’ve also been spending time doing object puppetry. How much movement does it take to make something seem alive? How many life-like features does an object need before someone can empathize with it?
The connection is simple. Screen tests for inanimate objects. Test how they live and breath on film, see how much a viewer will project onto a simple, silent, black and white clip of the object.
My first attempt, my plastic dinosaur/succulent planter, Susan the Terrible.
There are no perfect plans.
From 2015-2016, I spent a year making different styles of art projects. The plan was to try everything I was potentially interested, and go to grad school for whatever I was most successful in. I tried it, I successfully wrote a lot, so I went and got an MFA in Dramatic Writing.
I like writing. But (as evidenced by my Finding the Framework challenges) I also like a lot of other things. Even after trying to spend two years concentrating on writing, I’ve ended up trying a lot of different projects. I joined an aerial dance company.
I started working for the Andy Warhol Museum
I started turning trash into puppets. And then touring shows with those trash puppets.
I joined the team for the largest immersive theater piece in town.
Three years ago, I thought I was playing with different disciplines to find my specialty. Now I can see that ‘playing with different disciplines’ is my specialty.
There’s no way I could have planned a path to end up here. I’ve discovered more of my next steps on accident than I have on purpose. Any accurate maps I have of what I’m doing are being drawn in retrospect. The creative process is all about discovery, so why shouldn’t the career plans be as well?
What does it mean to work in interdisciplinary performance? It means this week, I’m working on an immersive computer science show, a puppet opera, and a piece of aerial dance-theater.
It’s easy. Mash the names of two disciplines together. If it sounds like something you’d watch, do it!
Vegetable orchestra symphonies
Now you try!
I read and write a lot. I went to grad school. Where they ask you to do *even more* of both of those things.
How much more?
This much more.
I’ve compiled a list of the top ten books I read during that time (excluding plays, they’re a whole separate… thing.)
These are not the most literary works of grad school, or the most recommended. Only three of these titles were mentioned to me by professors. No, these are the books I’m most likely to talk to other humans about. These are the books that if you sit next to me at a party (in the corner, behind a potted plant next to the host’s dog) I will assuredly end up mentioning to you.
- Making Your Life As an Artist – Andrew Simonet
- Design is Storytelling – Ellen Lupton
- Syllabus – Lynda Barry
- What It Is – Lynda Barry
- House of Leaves – Mark J. Danielewsky
- The Mystery.doc – Matthew McIntosh
- The Vision – Tom King
- Spinning – Tillie Walden
- Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson
- Then We Came to the End – Joshua Ferris
The most inherent through line for this list is that I’m now obsessed with visual storytelling. Only two of these books are straightforward “text tells the whole story” sort of books. All the rest use image and format as powerful communication tools to supplement text. We can talk more about that later.
The MacArthur Fellows program is my all time favorite program for funding creative work. Each year their panel picks a wide array of creative trailblazers to receive generous long-term funding to keep doing what you’re doing. There’s no application. The panel is kept secret. Just a “Hey, we noticed that what you are doing is exceptional. Here’s $625,000 to make it even better.”
I had the good fortune to study briefly under Dr. Richards-Kortum in undergrad, who received the award in 2016 for her work in global health technology. My brief time studying with her was enough to inspire an entire opera libretto about her field of work. Many of the creative role models whose names I invoked on a weekly basis in grad school have received this award.
I was thrilled to learn this week that Lynda Barry has been named one of the 2019 MacArthur Fellows. I first encountered her work a year ago, through her book Syllabus.
Since writing about my booklist a few years back, I’ve read a few more titles. Like, maybe exactly 268 more. If I were to list my top ten of those (which I will. Tomorrow?) Syllabus and What It Is would both make the list. Her approach to approaching the core values of art by circumventing the technical steps that tend to get in people’s way is thrilling. As a die-hard supporter of playfulness and creative chaos, her work and philosophy are the gold standard for me. Seeing her cartoon monkeys and doodle spirals achieve international acclaim stirs up shimmering gelatinous art-pride for everything she has done.
Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for humanity out there in the piles of cast-off composition books and index cards.
What was my experience in an intensive two year MFA program?
Let me put it this way:
The summer after my first year, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was the most restful thing I did during those two years.
Even big endeavors are easy to accomplish when there’s a clear goal and a direct route. Kilimanjaro had a map, a path, a plan. Creative work and creative careers aren’t quite as clear. Paths meander, if they even exist.
For instance, I found inspiration for a major screenwriting project while climbing Kilimanjaro. Was my screenplay about mountain adventures in Africa? No. It’s an action-comedy about geothermal chemists in Northern California. Because creativity thrives on departures from the expected. (And because a hiker in our group talked through his whole geothermal energy plant business model over the course of our 5th day slogging up a field of boulders.)
With writing, the routes you think you understand don’t always lead where you want them to.