My wife’s Valentine’s Day gift to me was a trip to our local art museum. They just opened an exhibit titled “The Works of Warhol.” For years, Andy Warhol has been my favorite artist. If I am ever in a city and they have an art museum, I always check to see if they have Warhol pieces. I’ve been search for the soup cans since college. In fact, I made it to the Museum of Modern Art a few years back hoping to see the soup cans, only to discover they were in Paris for a museum show. When I finally found a soup can, it was ten minutes from my house. It was the can of Scotch Broth at the History Museum of Art.
A lot of people do not care for Andy Warhol. They don’t see the value of his art which is just a picture of a banana, or 100 Coke Bottles, or a facsimile of Brillo Box. To be fair, it’s not the art of Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michelangelo. It’s not the fine art we often think of as “art.” However, when time is spent with some of Warhol’s rationale as well as the value of what he chose to do. He painted what he saw. Celebrities, food, cleaning supplies, and religious icons are some the things that he paints, prints, or builds. He grew up working class. He ate Campbell’s Soup on an almost daily basis. He was a person of faith. His mother read celebrity magazines and loved watching them on TV. He wanted to paint the things in the culture. Note: I’m not linking sources to all of this, but I suggest you start with the Wikipedia Article and warhol.org.
In Warhol’s art, he brings the things regular people see everyday into the conversation of art and philosophy. Consumer products and household items become spaces conversation and admiration. I think of the soup cans. Once I showed pile of soup cans and asked a class to draw what they saw. They saw a collection of different things. Some were very literal, others were imaginative, and others were nostalgic. No two were the same. The time think about soup cans led to stories, remembering, and creative idea.
I also think Warhol’s art can remind people that their lives, experiences, and art matters. It can let them know that their experiences of life and culture are of value, if we let it. We’ve sort of quickly placed Warhol on some esoteric pedestal instead of celebrating the everyday with him. Beyond Warhol’s work, the celebrating of things people like, but paying attention to what they display in their homes, offices, and churches. Stained glass windows, hand maid prayer blankets, old baseball trophies, and pictures of war heroes are some of the things throughout the halls of my church. These all matter. These all connect us to different things.
Within my work, I want to be like Warhol and relate the rural experience to the things that matter. There’s a reason my mom has as collection of old Coca Cola glasses. Memories are tied up candle sticks. A story of faith is connected to an old Bible on a shelf. The fact that the old scoreboard is at the softball field next to the new one has a message. It’s up to us to see how those things could open up space for new futures to emerge.
I wonder if we took seriously the things rural people cherish, the items the use daily, the things they assign memories and significance and turn them into art. Not art in a museum, but something to consider, something to inspire. Rural communities are good at lifting things up, both sacred and mundane. But the next steps are crucial, the steps of reflecting, imagining, and responding to the item. So often we stop with the celebrating of a thing. These steps are not intended to be critical or pick apart traditions, but instead, serve to expand the tradition.
A soup can, a tractor tire, or a coffee pot can make open doors and create new connections that rural communities can live into.
I know I should provide examples, and explore this and other topics, and I will. Some resources should become available this summer with blog posts for how to use them.