Artist Insight: Andy Warhol

Pop Art is an art movement that emerged in the mid 1950‘s in America, as a break away from current movement of Abstract Expressionism, that was ever so prevalent at the time. Pop art presented a challenge to traditions of fine art by employing aspects of mass culture, such as advertising, comic books and mundane cultural objects. One of its aims is to use images of popular (as opposed to elitist) culture in art, emphasizing the banal or kitschy elements of any culture, most often through the use of irony.


Andy Warhol is probably the most famous figure in Pop art. In fact, art critic Arthur Danto once called Warhol “the nearest thing to a philosophical genius the history of art has produced“. Warhol attempted to take Pop beyond an artistic style to a life style, and his work often displays a lack of human affectation that dispenses with the irony and parody of many of his peers.


Warhol’s beginnings as a product marketer heavily influenced his artistic career, in which he glamorized and transformed everyday objects, like soup cans and cleaning supplies, into works of art. So in the 1980’s when Feldman Fine Arts commissioned Warhol to create his Ads series, Warhol was in his element. The Ads Portfolioof prints by Andy Warhol is one of his most iconic sets of prints.


On one hand, the Ads series took commonplace, iconic advertisements and elevated the product being marketed to the status of art. On the other hand, each image selected by Warhol represents more than just an iconic image. Each image discusses the importance of that specific industry in shaping and defining our culture, and society. When viewed collectively, the Ads series speaks volumes about consumption, consumerism, materialism, capitalism, and many other worldly views. Alongside this week’s work of the week, The New Spirit, other images selected were advertisements for Chanel, Apple, Life Savers, Mobil, Volkswagen Paramount, Blackglama, Rebel without a Cause (James Dean), and Van Heusen.


This week’s Work Of the Week (WOW) is The New Spirit.


The New Spirit is a 1942 American animated short film produced by Walt Disney Productions and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and released by the War Activities Committee of the Motion Pictures Industry. The cartoon, which stars Donald Duck, was the first film created as part of Walt Disney’s World War II propaganda production. It was commissioned by Henry Morgenthau, Jr., then Secretary of the Treasury, to encourage American citizens to pay their income tax in support of the war effort.


The film begins with Donald Duck, flush with the contemporary patriotic spirit present with the United States’ full entry into World War II, dancing to a patriotic song. A radio announcer tells about the new patriotic spirit and asks Donald if he is willing to do his part. Donald fervently asserts his loyalty and begs to know how best to show it. His enthusiasm fades when the radio announcer advises he pay his income tax promptly.


The film concludes with a montage of images to illustrate to the audience the wartime necessities the money is needed for such as munitions and combat vehicles to defeat the Axis powers. With a final images framed in a sky lined with red, white and blue, the announcer repeats The Four Freedoms and reminds the audience that taxes are essential for victory and will keep democracy on the march.


Time magazine said that “although the cartoon does not make the new short-form blank crystal clear, it gets its propaganda across with the anesthetic blessing of laughter and great good humor. As cinema, The New Spirit is a most effective job“. It added somewhat tongue in cheak that “Bachelor Duck has complained about a lot of things, but his salary ($2,501) is not one of them. Its revelation is pure patriotism on his part“.


At the 15th Academy Awards the next year the film was one of 25 films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Among the public, the film created its desired effect; income taxes were more prompt in 1942 than in any year previous.


Historians have cited Gallup Polls to show more than 60 million people saw the short in theaters, and it contributed to an increase of twice as many income tax filings from the previous year.


In his version of the Ad for The New Spirit, Warhol brilliantly portrays Donald Duck grabbing a broom, and holding it like a rifle, marches off to fulfill his patriotic duty. Like most of the images used in the Ads series, like the other ads, Warhol was commenting on the impact of mass media on the public, however, he choose this ad because it was not a large corporation behind it, but rather a from of government propaganda, a different type of marketing.

Other works from the Ads Portfolio:

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   Mobil, 1985

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     Paramount, 1985

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 Chanel, 1985

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