Okay… I promise I won’t go on a long-winded rant about Andy Warhol’s lost digital images that were recently unlocked from an old floppy disk. I won’t go on and on about how revolutionary Warhol is or how disgustingly cool I find it that such important works could be hidden within pieces of plastic and metal. Annnnd, as much as I want to, I won’t even let the art historian in me swoon over the changes these discoveries will inevitably make when discussing art and the technological age.
What I do want to rant about is the fact that I’ve just discovered I’m a big fat hypocrite. Why, you might ask… Well, for the past five years I’ve declared Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q as one of the most annoying pieces of art created in the modern era. In fact, I’ve always found Duchamp himself somewhat infuriating, pretentious, and undeserving of his acclaim. I’ve heard every argument in his favor, read books and books about his ingenuity, but ultimately end up finding him and his “monumental” pieces rather loathsome.
So… how does it make any sense that I’ve become completely obsessed with Warhol’s digital manipulations of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus? Warhol’s and Duchamp’s pieces are essentially the same, except the argument can be made that Duchamp’s is more original and, in that sense, more important in a historical context. Warhol makes an obvious nod to Duchamp’s piece that was created sixty-six years earlier. Slap a third eye on Venus or a mustache on Mona Lisa and they both deliver the same (not so subtle) “fuck you” to everything you think you know about fine art. So why do I like Warhol’s more? It’s probably as simple as saying that I get Warhol more. I’ve studied him more, relate more to his pieces, and identify with the cultural importance of his work.
And that inevitably brings us to an even bigger question; What makes good art? And maybe the answer to that question is… nothing. Maybe no art is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ on any sort of monumental scale. Maybe it’s completely reliant on us, the viewer, and the perspectives and experiences we bring to each piece. And, if that’s true, maybe every piece that’s studied in every university around the world is only studied because a person with enough influence two hundred years ago decided he thought it was worth seeing. And maybe the history of art would be entirely different if he had favored other artists. And well, if that’s true, maybe all history is subjective and maybe we’re all hypocrites.