Warhol liked pretty boys

Andy Warhol was always considered to be a distant person. When people approached him, he flinched and backed away. When someone talked to him face-to-face, he hardly looked straight on into the person’s eyes. Whereas, during a conversation, one would gently touch the shoulder of his companion to emphasize a point, Warhol would whip out a camera and take that person’s picture. It was his way of showing affection. Yet, always being the recorder of an event creates distance between that person and the event itself. The photographer cannot ever be fully present at a party when they are constantly roaming around looking for people to photograph. But Andy was just that kind of guy.

Even in his art, there is always a sense of removal and distance, almost a sense of clinical observation. The subjects are subjects themselves, with no embellishments or extravagance. The images of Andy Warhol in the Warhol Snapshots exhibition in UMMA are not the typical, iconic images of his career. There are no silk screens of Campbell’s soup cans or Marilyn Monroe. There are no Brillo boxes. Instead, there are Polaroids and silver gelatin prints of the everyday experience of being Andy Warhol.

After being nearly fatally shot in 1968, Andy retreated into his silvery shell of The Factory, his studio where countless subjects of his art marched into for their closeups. It was widely said that it was in this foil covered studio that people felt the most like themselves and the least judged by others. Andy’s studio became a refuge for people not widely accepted by societal norms: homosexuals, transsexuals, artists, addicts. Even those who were rich and famous or came from influential families found their safe haven in the studio. Though he was a gay man who lived with his mother, it wasn’t always in his initial intentions to transform his studio into such a refuge. It just became like that. Numerous people flocked to him for their own 15 minutes of silk screen printed fame.

But in the snapshots of his life presented in this exhibition, one can easily see the things that caught Andy’s eye. He was interested in the interactions between people, various people, both in the midst of their crowded surroundings and in their own solitude. And in these pictures of other people, we can begin to tell about Andy himself. Judging from the many pictures taken at parties and social events, we realize that Andy was very much a part of the social scene– apparently, he never missed a party. And he never missed a party without his camera, either. He was captivated by small things– a truck parked in front of an instant win lottery sign, three gorgeous men laughing over a glasses of alcoholic drinks, three ladies’ colorful high heels. While examining one photograph featuring Liza Minelli, we instantly become aware that it is not Liza Minelli herself, whose back is turned to the camera, that Andy wanted to shoot– it was actually the cute Asian man sitting down behind her, staring directly at the photographer. And as we look from one picture to another and another and another, none of which shows Warhol himself, it becomes evident that Andy was always the person who always took the photographs, not the one photographed.

In fact, the tragic truth was that Andy believed that he was ugly. Even as he drew and took pictures of these people that he called gorgeous, even as he said, “Everyone is beautiful, it’s just that some are more beautiful than others”, he thought himself to be ugly. Perhaps as these “beautiful” people sought security in Andy’s studio, Andy also sought security in his art featuring these beautiful people. But as someone who became one of the most famous and recognizable artists of all time, what would Andy have to be insecure about?

In a way, this creator of iconic proportions presents the case of those on the margins of society. He may be brilliant, he may be famous, but if he is different, than he can never fully feel safe in a world where he is not understood and in a world where he feels he does not belong. Maybe that is why so many people followed him and nearly worshiped him as an artist. He brought out in them– the rich, the famous, the beautiful– insecurities that they had hidden for so long and had always longed to stifle and hide, yet he did not judge them; he understood. And in that studio, as their photographs were being snapped, at that party, where candid shots were being taken, they understood that he would not exploit their weaknesses to their disadvantage, but that he would take them in all of their good and bad and raise them up to a level on par with the ever enviable Marilyn. That he would transform them from regular people to iconic figures. That they would, in his art, become that which they had always desired to be: Accepted.

— The Warhol Snapshots Exhibition curated by Christina Chang at the University of Michigan Museum of Art lasted from August 29 to October 25 2009 —


Gabby Park spends hours in museums and restaurants, with a notebook and a fork in hand, respectively.

On the nature of the Muse

A violent, rippling surge that pulsates through the cavity of life in blossoming melodic synchrony; Oftentimes leaves in its wake, art, ideally breaking all the boundaries of  traditional good taste, constructing in earnest an unforeseen, heraldic marvel.

But from where does this entirely human phenomenon spawn? From love? From the sight of a particular hue emanating from a spear of grass? Or from that exquisite dorm-room oatmeal that you consumed this morning?

Literary giants, upon embarking on their magnum opus, have invoked the Muses. Homer did it. So did Edmund Spenser. Accrediting these Muses with the resulting bold, creative wit, they themselves humbly claim to be the vessel through which this rich stream of luminous genius rollicks, tumults, and pours out of. Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns, he says. And the epic poetry that in a deluge, spills forth, is not his own doing, but some universal force conspiring to bring the words to his ready, poised hand. There have been many instances in which I found myself voluntarily locked in the fourth floor stacks of the Hatcher Graduate library, essay-prompt in hand, and desperately calling for my Muse to promptly present itself. Give me wondrous, beautiful syntaxy droppings to fill this empty screen, I say. Within half a second, I am met with a wave of shushes and someone from a neighboring study-carrel knocks at my door and politely reminds me, as he delicately readjusts his glasses on the bridge of his nose, the carrels are not sound-proof. The cursor on the screen continues to blink mockingly, and to my utter dismay, neither the muscles in my hand nor my intellect flex by their own accord to produce nine-line stanzas of literary art. At that moment, I need nothing more than, as Jonathan Nolan cleverly puts, “moments of clarity, insight — when the clouds part, the planets get in a neat little line, and everything becomes obvious.” In its stead, all I have are clumsy electrical impulses, rising, in a tumultuous, enraged manner, to mere rebellion against idleness. Yet they are thoroughly substanceless, lacking a textured palpability, a unified vision that encourages their movement towards birthing a true, affecting idea. Instead, old drawers are hastily opened and shut, moth-eaten curtains are flapped yet again, and vessels carrying stale and frayed stems of once matured ideas are tipped over in their furious lunges of motion. The neurons know that perhaps, nothing remarkable is to be found in the billions, trillions of folds of white and gray matter — a horrifying prospect that further incites their violent, untamable desire to keep firing wild arcs of shrapnel into the darkness.

I am alone, through and through, with my endeavor to create.

During these moments, I wonder on the nature this psychological curiosity of Inspiration. Where do those canonical, ground-shattering poets, painters, architects gain the incessant fervor to shape the volatile intangibilities of their minds? From what factory is brilliance manufactured in? And let’s not restrict inspiration only to the realm of art. Otto Loewi, a German pharmacologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1936 claims that the idea of chemical signaling (his experiment included the placing of dissected frog hearts in beakers of saline solution) came to him in a dream and after controlled experimentation to quantifiably demonstrate chemical synaptical transmission, he is now referred to as the “Father of Neuroscience”. Is there simply a genetic formula that I had not been graced with that causes a proclivity to inspired states? At times, it seems to me that one either has the talent of finding Inspiration and channeling it into something quite (alarmingly) beautiful, or doesn’t. Other times, I look at pieces of art by O’Keefe, or read an essay by Emerson and wonder if they are simply just stricken with the disorientation of life – of nature, in all of its chaotic vicissitudes of chance – that they simply must articulate it because to keep these inflamed wisps of thought within the confines of their mind is utterly intolerable. But where to encounter it? What does it take for that cavern beneath your sternum to be filled with a lurid anxiety to produce and for a mind to be set ablaze?

While it engulfs us in rapture when it occurs, I find Inspiration, on a whole, quite unreliable. She’s never there when I needed her, and if I waited on her for every class assignment on the syllabus, my professors would have long ago denied me an acceptable grade. Habit, and sheer diligence with the absence of Inspiration, is more dependable. It’s pragmatic and sufficient in this world.

However, whenever the clamor of daily duties dwindle naturally or are forced into inaudibility, I find her lurking in the pattern of upholstery, an overheard conversation, or the leathery texture and the veins of a leaf. It is then when I find myself producing something beyond what habit could dream of giving shape to. I am certain that my best work comes from when I’m inspired. The apparition of that sublime state of being will perhaps forever be inexplicable, even as we learn the depths of human cognition and the intricacies of the molecular machineries that give rise to it. And further, no two human brains are identical; perhaps no set of rules can ever be drawn to entrap the whimsy of Inspiration.

So from what parts of life do you find inspiration? And I’m curious to know: Do you think inspiration is independent of habit?

Sue majors in Neuroscience & English and tends to lurk in bookstores.

Nothing more, nothing less.

We get so caught up in our own lives, in the events that pass us by, in the people who surround us.  We become so focused on our work, the latest trends, the current affairs.  We lose sight of so many important things, the ones unseen, the scenery that remains constant even as we move incessantly.  We forget to appreciate the quiet.  We forget to truly look and reflect– about ourselves, about the world, about life, in general.  We forget too easily that it’s not all about the grades or the money or the reputation.  It’s always about something more than that, some unspeakable greatness that is found in the smallest of things.

This video is just another reminder of how greatness surrounds us every day.  How can something so simple, like fish in an aquarium be so astounding?  This is what they mean by the Sublime in History of Art– a scene that reminds us of just how small we are.  And indeed, as onlookers are deeply silhouetted by the blue green of the water tank, we are forced yet again to acknowledge how small we are.  In comparison to the vastness of the sea, the millions and billions of fish and other species in the world, we are but a mere 6 billion humans.

Because we are human, oftentimes, I think we forget that we are just humans.  We have the capacity to think, to feel, to plan, to act, to judge.  So, we think we are so great, so immortal and invincible.  We believe we are the most intelligent beings, we believe we are right, we believe no one else could possibly know better than us.  We feel we have the right to control everything, to hold power over others.  But when it finally hits us that we are nothing more than human, the word than connotes a meaning much less than “powerful”.  It strikes us that yes, we are humans…and nothing more, nothing less.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Under the comment section on Youtube, there was one who criticized this video and those who considered it to be beautiful:

“Horrible. It’s never that crowded in the open sea. Poor animals. And all that only because they want to hear us humans saying things like you are here on youtube.

This is not beautiful, it is brutal.”

This comment does bring up a plethora of questions, one of which asks, “What is beauty?” and the other which asks, “Can something be morally deranged and artistic at the same time?”  This commentator seems to imply that because the entrapment and display of natural beings is a brutal practice, this scene cannot be considered “beautiful”.  That its artistic value is lost because it is tainted by some idea of right or wrong.  Alas, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is it not?  Something that is brutal to one person has every capacity to be considered beautiful to another.  Not to sound completely void of morality, but this seems to be fact.  Photographs and paintings depicting the havoc wreaked by war are still considered to be art, to retain its sense of creative expression, even if they are portraying or were created in deplorable circumstances.  Art, I don’t believe, is necessarily bound by a humanistic sense of ethics; in fact, art is precisely that which cannot be defined or contained by human understanding– artists will say that they do not create for the purpose of profit but that they create because they are driven by this innate drive to express something they cannot label or comprehend.

However, I’m really glad that this person showed us the other perspective of a scene many would call breathtaking and magnificent.  There are so many sides to art, so many ways that it influences us daily and we do not even take notice of it.  Art does a lot to move the public, yet we have become so interested in technology, the sciences of movement– faster, stronger, better– we have become blind to the art that surrounds us each day.

This video holds a lot of appeal for viewers because we become immersed in the scene.  We become surrounded by the water that holds the sharks and the fish, we are enveloped by this sense of calm and tranquility, struck by awe and amazement at the beauty that faces us.  We are just another human being in the aquarium, drinking in the magnificence that slows everything down.  It’s like we’re in water– we feel loose and at ease, we feel slowed down but not in a cumbersome way.  And as we watch, mesmerized, it hits us that, wow… there’s so much more out there than we fully appreciate or realize.


Gabby Park often wishes she could go to aquariums and be immersed in the blue-green water, even if she has trouble swimming.

“Deja Vu All Over Again”

Yogi Berra, coined the phrase, “This is like déjà vu all over again!” making a humorous statement planted from misused repetition. Déjà vu all over again is apparent in our current lives seen in the topic of museum looting, yet does not connote the same kind of humor as Yogi Berra.

During World War II, Nazi Germany raided and destroyed both large and small cultural museums as well as homes filled with private collections. This war tactic stripped a culture of its historical legitimacy and heritage, showing the German’s act of genocide went so far as to extinct Jewish and Polish entire existences by demolishing their ancestral objects as well. More than half a century later, looted artwork from this time period is popping up today, while others are still missing.

We see the process of deja vu all over again, when in 2003, the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad was raided after the United States invasion of Iraq. Mostly native Iraqi looters stole ancient Middle Eastern heritage of great importance to both Iraqis and the world. In both cases we can see an attack on individual cultural pasts.

A culture’s credence rests upon the evidence provided by accumulated ancestral objects. Therefore, the importance of these objects must not be overlooked. The issue of museum looting is greatly important in the United States due to the acquisition of these objects in our major museums nationwide. On a local level, back in the 80’s, there was a case of looted objects found in the Kelsey Museum on Archeology collection here on campus. Acquisition policies in museums have recently reformed, becoming more aware of the object’s origins and deaccessioning looted objects back to their country of origin.

Museums can learn from their past acquisition mistakes in order to prevent déjà vu all over again in the future.

It’s history and it’s present!