Blogging and Pop Art: Who will be the new kind of person?
“There’s going to be a new movement and a new kind of person and you could be that person.”
The writer Victor Bockris thus quotes Andy Warhol as saying to friends in the early 1960s. This was when Pop Art was massing up like a big wave about to coalesce into a tsunami that would sweep away all previous schools of painting. Not merely realism but even the abstract expressionism of Franz Kline, de Kooning and Pollock was about to be eclipsed, and everybody in the art capital of the world, New York, knew it.
Pop art — cool, unsentimental, ironic, ambitious and uniquely American in its commercial references — was the answer in those post-Eisenhower years, but it was far from clear who would lead the new movement. Jasper Johns and his lover, Robert Rauschenberg, were first out of the gate, and Warhol wanted desperately in. “There was rivalry,” Bockris writes in his 1989 biography, Warhol. “Egos were gargantuan — and there was a lot of competition…”. The old world was crumbling, the new world a-borning, and Warhol perfectly captured the wide-open possibilities, in which anyone could be a star, when he told everybody he met, “You could be that person” (thereby pre-figuring his 1968 prediction that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
Now here we are in the dreary, depressive year of 2009, when every pundit is predicting the demise of print journalism, and every blogger believes, in his heart of hearts, that “I could be that person” — the person whom History will record rode the new wave and defined its weltanschauung. The philosopher Thomas Kuhn called a change of basic assumptions in how people think about elementary things “a paradigm shift” in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. When I studied it in high school, we thought in terms of the way Newtonian physics replaced Copernican, only in turn to be replaced by Einsteinian physics (at least, with regard to the Universe). But another paradign shift occurred when Gutenberg’s printing press made manuscripts endlessly replicable, thereby bringing them potentially to everyone in the world. What is more replicable, more endlessly repeatable with the click of a mouse than material created on and for the Internet?
Print journalism gave rise to the late-twentieth century phenomenon of wine criticism, of which Robert Parker, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast have been beneficiaries. But there will be a successor movement, and the people who lead it won’t wait for it to happen, but will make it happen by themselves.
Warhol had he lived — he’d be 81 now — would have been pleased with how history has treated him. He wanted to be the new person, and it turns out he was. “The prince of pop art” he’s been called, but that only begins to define his place. His name is world-famous for a kind of jaded ennui in the midst of celebrity culture but “this very celebrity of Warhol’s, his sheer, inescapable fame, has often disguised the fact that he was one of the most serious, and one of the most important, artists of the twentieth century,” in the words of The Museum of Modern Art’s chief curator, Kynaston McShine. Warhol thus takes his place alongside Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and, stretching further back, Goya and Raphael as signatories of their centuries.
Warhol’s stylized off-register silkscreens, repeated images and disaster paintings did not come overnight. He experimented for a decade, slowly finding his style. “He pissed on some canvas to see what it would look like,” Bockris writes — a technique not worth repeating. He tried dripping paint, like Pollock – tried cartoon characters (Popeye, Dick Tracy) like Lichtenstein – tried putting canvasses on the sidewalk outside his apartment so people would walk on them — and was annoyed with himself that he did not discover Claes Oldenburg’s soft sculptures first. Then came the breakthrough: a 1960 painting of a Coke bottle.
Some wine writer will be the new person, and the medium will be the Internet. Most likely that somebody is already blogging, and thinking about his or her blog’s style and approach, tinkering, feeling the outer limits, borrowing here and there, rejecting the irrelevant, improving what works, which is to say, what people like. That blogger is establishing a style that, when and if print becomes moribund, will re-define the dominant culture of wine writing. He or she won’t necessarily be the foremost blogger, right now, but will be the new person to come.