24/12/2010

Wilde and Warhol in bed

(c) Ronald D Gosses (2009) Andy Warhol & Oscar Wilde meet over Margaritas

Somehow or other I'll be famous, and if not famous, I'll be notorious. Or perhaps I'll lead the life of pleasure for a time and then—who knows?—rest and do nothing.
- Wilde


If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films - and me - and there I am. There’s nothing behind it."
- Warhol


(Notes on wilful contrariness for a later work.)


Andy Warhol is heir to Oscar Wilde, but I've never read anyone noticing this. I don't mean just that their queerness crashed into and shaped modernism and postmodernism respectively (though that's a good one); nor just that they fundamentally share the role of the sparkling dandy riding atop our none-more-wishful culture; nor that they're the most quotable figures in history. I mean that their similar self-constructions - the effeminate, theatrical, aesthetically-fixated, charming, amoral queer - occupy a continuum and what we have become is at the sharp end. Flippant, giggling, wonderful nihilism.

Both reject practicality, but are often intensely unromantic too:
  • Wilde deflates love (his tools: the realist farce, the counter-induction, the epigram);

  • Warhol deflates Life in general (his tools: flat textures, block colours, impersonal industrialized production, print runs, trivialization, and glorification of the status quo which the artistic status quo reviles).

They also share a basic contempt for their audiences. I don't believe that Wilde meant much of what he ever said or wrote. Lord Henry, from Dorian Gray: "It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible."

And the opposite, from Personal Reflections of America: "Appearance blinds, whereas words reveal." (Although he also thinks "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.")

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It's not an original thought. The mercenary nature of his intelligence was clear enough at the time, and we loved him anyway:
One might go through his swift and sparkling plays with a red and blue pencil marking two kinds of epigrams; the real epigram (which he wrote to please his own wild intellect) and the sham epigram (which he wrote to thrill the very tamest part of our tame civilization).
- GK Chesterton, 1909


Warhol we didn't exactly love, but we lusted after his things hysterically enough to close the difference. Warhol is the logical conclusion of Public Wilde, a deconstructed dandy: he doesn't even need to be witty; he doesn't even need to be handsome; he doesn't even need taste; he doesn't need his talent!

These are lives aimed at glamour, and which feign indifference to all else. Wilde's greatest cultural legacy is to have tied campness to homosexuality, and, worse, vice versa. (You could call it "the birth of public gay identity" if you were feeling optimistic). While there is little that is elegant about Warhol, he freed art from the need to have any content at all; a development which Wilde would have adored.


The idea of a "fake Warhol painting" is ridiculous. There's no such thing, except perhaps for tax purposes. The Economist magazine uses him as the windvane for the art market general - metonymy which Warhol would have adored.

You might have heard the story about a Warhol exhibition in 1971; there were so many attendees (and so much writhing) that he took down the paintings, so that people could get in. Warhol was the point; he was the work. The actual paintings were derided at the time as "hoaxes"; and so they were. And so all art is. The idea of a "Warhol urban legend" is ridiculous... (What on earth has truth got to do with it?)


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But beauty, real beauty, ends where intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of a face.

(So speaks a man who loves men.)

I know a girl...she just sees a beautiful face and therefore she thinks she's a beauty. And therefore, I think she's a beauty, too, because I usually accept people on the basis of their self-images, because their self-images have more to do with the way they think than their objective-images do.

(So speaks a man who loves cats.)

Beckett might have slotted neatly in between them - another malin provocateur. But he's too stark, so lacking in ornament that he would burst my neat category apart. De Sade fits, and anyway would use a knife if he didn't at first. Lou Reed was groomed by Warhol specifically for the task of being a nasty little man. Damien Hirst is a macho shit who'd headbutt his own way out of the analysis. These people are the cattleprods we grab on to.

Is it Nietzsche they come from, then? Maybe not. (We never accepted Nietzsche in time.)


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Wilde's too beautiful to ignore (e.g. try this, from his Canterville Ghost:
Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.)
but too dishonest to really respect. Maybe that's the point. (You can rightfully say "maybe that's the point" to any artwork; any ambiguity; any old piece of hollow crap. Maybe that's the point.) He exasperates me, but I am queer.

Warhol's neither beautiful nor honest, but the fact that his "work" happened has importance despite itself because, without its freshening sort, art will die; 'art-lovers' will kill it. It will become what classical music sadly has; a marginal, elitist, ossified time-capsule. This classist classicism is bad only because it's entirely false, traitorous and suicidal. I hate Warhol, but I am Pop.

Their indifference is horrific. Hopefully that's the point.


Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about. "
- Wilde

The best thing for everybody now is to forget all about Oscar Wilde, his perpetual posings, his aesthetical teachings and his theatrical productions. Let him go into silence, and be heard no more.
- L'echo de Paris, 1895
(unwittingly immortalising 'Wilde' as a Name for a nameless love).




Warhol is a sphinx without a secret."
- Capote
(Yes, but so are you, you deep man.)


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