warhol and the studio system: muse driven?

by Art Chantry (art@artchantry.com)

this is one of those artifacts that has left me awed and puzzled ever since i found this copy back in around 1980. it’s official title is “andy warhol’s index (book)” . i guess the last word in the parenthesis is for all your ignoramuses out there in america who don’t know what the word ‘index’ mean. ok, i’ll admit it. when i found this, i didn’t know what ‘index’ meant in this application. i had to look the word up in a dictionary to understand it.

it’s history is as convoluted as warhol. andy began life as a professional “graphic designer” of sorts. in reality, he ran a small two-man studio (his sole employee for the ten years he was a commercial artist was a old friend of mine, the late nathan gluck.) nathan explained to me how andy worked and how he transitioned to the ‘fine’ art racket. andy simply was a freelancer who fought for whatever work he could find. he would say anything to anybody to get that work. it’s an old old old time-honored technique in the graphic design biz. it’s called ‘hustle.’

---AC:yeah, it's a first printing. the condition is less than mint (like all of them) and i'm missing the silver balloon thing. so, it's not complete. still have the velvets flexi, tho. that makes a huge diff. i've seen these things on sale from about $700 to $2500, depending on condition and where. i've been told it's worth even more. but, nobody has any money these days, so it's all moot.

andy was a talented drawer. his surviving early sketches (preserved on the back of his niece’s childhood drawings. he would give her his old drawings to scribble on) show a very talented albeit derivative period style (think ‘cocteau’) and an obsession with fetishism (he was then a closeted gay man). the way he ran his design business was based on the classic ‘studio’ system of the ages: he brought in the work and got it done – usually delegating the actual work to his employees (in this case nathan) or other hangers-on (like his mother). one of the things nathan would point out to me was all the work that he did that is now officially credited (and sold and collected) as ‘real’ andy warhol art. virtually ALL the ‘rubber stamp’ paintings were nathan’s work. even the archaic flavored calligraphy usually credited to ‘andy’s mother’ (she famously won an art director’s best of show award) was actually nathan’s work. he also taught the unschooled andy most of his creative techniques.

this ‘studio’ system has been in effect for centuries. there’s still much debate over what da vinci actually drew and what his students drew that he put his name on. it’s often said that corot made vastly more paintings than he actually painted – he was in the habit of actually signing his name to everything he came near. often, he encouraged his students to let him sign their work so they could sell it and make more money in order to survive.

the studio system faded largely away in the 20th century modern art dialog because more importance was placed upon actual authorship than in the past. the arts and crafts movement dragged the idea of actual hand-made objects created by the named person as the only TRUE “art”. however, most artists still had their ‘assistants’. they were just invisible and anonymous.

the commercial art world never abandoned the ‘studio’ system and continues to use it until this very moment. do you really think that all those famous graphic design studios out there that crank out so much physical work is actually done by one single person with his very own hands? no, that’s ridiculous. most design studios are run by designers-turned-salesmen. they give up the creative efforts in order to drag in the business. they just hire a staff to do his work for him. you’d be surprised how many ‘famous’ designers out there actually do no creative work at all any more.

that’s why so many designers die and yet their studios live on – with their name still affixed to the product. if the famous name on the door dragged in the clients and accounts, then KEEP it there. whoever has his name on the door, gets all the credit (and money). it’s one of these chief differences between graphic design and ‘fine’ art that confuses and frustrates fledgling designers just starting out (and ‘artists’ trying to make a fast buck to support their ‘fine’ art). they just don’t get it (yet). they will. about the time they chose to not starve to death.

the one contribution that warhol gave to fine art that is probably the most important and influential of all his many contributions is the idea of the studio system re-born. he simply carried over his way of working in the commercial art world into the fine art world. thus – the FACTORY. since andy, every fine artist in the world seems to have their own factory producing vast amounts of fine art product to sell. some fine artists have erased that line so thoroughly that they are mere managers running commercial ‘fine art’ manufacturing plants (aka, ‘factories’). think: chilhuly. koons. hirst. yet, we still buy their work actually holding onto that old fantasy of the starving artist in the frozen attic obsessively cranking out their muse-driven ‘art’. these days, nothing could be further form the truth. but, it sure sells!

andy didn’t really know design – he knew picture making – ILLUSTRATION. as much as he’s credited with his design innovations, they were in reality CONCEPTUAL innovations rather than actual craft, technical or even hardcore graphic design innovations. have you ever seen a single piece of typography by andy warhol? how can you be called a ‘graphic designer’, yet

e never executed any typography what-so-ever? but, he was a magnificent illustrator. and he had supernatural instincts and even divine taste in the bottom rungs of the creative mindset. he brought his love of crap to the art world. it’s still reeling from that innovation alone – cheezy popular culture presented as ‘high art.’

which brings me to this book. it was begun when publishing/artist agent alan rinzler approached random house with the idea of doing a book about andy warhol and his circle. it was early 1967 and the factory was at it’s peak of influence and fame. editor christopher cerf bought off on the idea and then grabbed staff designer david paul and ran down to the factory to meet with andy and the crew to gather ‘stuff’. they came back with a treasure trove of really crude and remarkable documentary photographs of andy working alongside the velvet underground, holly woodlawn, ingrid superstar, edie sedgwick, ondine, morrisey, etc. etc. etc. this pile of photos were selected in a heap and primarily consisted of snaps taken by ‘house mother’ and official factory photographer billy name (william linnich) with a few nat finkelstein and stephen shore photos tossed in for shits and giggles.

the poor designer, david paul, had to somehow gang all of this stuff into a book and ALSO somehow take instructions from andy and the factory as to how it should look. for instance, at one point, andy came into the random house offices and saw some children’s pop-up books that they were making and said, “those are nice”. as a result this weird little book has pop-ups of soup cans, airplanes and even a full bore castle (a reference to ‘the castle’ rock venue in LA). there are also a flexi-disk of the velvet underground, a dodecahedron of a nude photographer, a paper accordion, an advert for ‘the chelsea girls’ on a wire spring that pops into your face, even a sheet of ‘blotter paper’ stamps supposedly laced with LSD to drop in your water glass. the cover of the book looks like a ‘moire’ pattern, but it actually the result of the the crude high contrst image of the factory crowd silkscreend into that “salmon skin” type reflective material that was so popular in the 1960′s. very psychedlic, ya know. all this silly and excessive indulgence was extremely expensive to produce.

when poor david paul was finally working on his fully comped 3RD VERSION of the mock up, andy looked at it and examined the interviews and articles reproduced inside (the only text in the whole book. the rest is all photo montages) and complained “the book is too easy to read.” i guess he wanted it to be more mysterious and elitist and exclusive? or perhaps he just meant that there weren’t enough accidents and mistakes? or maybe the type was too big? with art direction as vague as andy’s, you just make a guess and hoped for the best.

so, the result is this typography i’m showing you (if you want to see all the other crazy pop-ups and stuff, just get on the internet. that’s all anybody else in the art world cares about and it’s easy to find reproductions). this typography may be the first real ‘punk’ graphic design. i mean to say, this stuff is awful – especially by the standards of the era it was produced. but, you can clearly see the slap-dash DIY “i don’t give a fuck” attitude that so predominated graphic design during (and so long after) the punk era. warhol didn’t design this – DAVID PAUL designed this. it’s brilliant and stupid and beautiful and incompetent and absolutely perfect. i think he gave up and literally went about FUCKING UP all his hard work intentionally. he may have been simply sticking his middle finger to andy with this version of the layout.

i’ve spent many many hours carefully studying this, trying to figure out just what was going on here. the way the text type galleys (the typeset strips of photo type you get from the typesetter) are pasted in fairly straight, but then it’s arbitrarily sliced and diced and re-pasted back in place incredibly crooked. other headline type literally BLOCKS out some of the text copy. if you ever see an actual copy of this book (index), you’ll see that some of the typography runs right off the page – removing legibility and full thoughts. headline types are made up of the worst decorative typefaces of the era. photos in the layouts are trimmed insensitively and chaotically. things are scribbled out and left that way. there are TYPOS everywhere. at the end of the book, they obviously had a couple of empty pages they didn’t have enough ‘stuff’ to fill up, so, they simply wrote the word “BLANK” in big sloppy marking pen and printed it that way. this design is a slap in the face.

when andy saw it again, he apparently didn’t reject it. instead, he added that little ‘star’ shaped thing on the layout with the headline, “notes on myepic”. according to reports from back then, this was the very last thing andy touched before it went to press. really? you’re kidding. right?

this intentional amateurish incompetent layout style eventually became the house style of andy’s ‘interview’ magazine. he loved the casual hasty (even dubious) feel of it. sure, typography like this had existed before – notably in the dadaist efforts and the work of george macunias’s in FLUXUS, and even in many underground hippie newspapers design by stark, stoned amateurs. but, this is perhaps the first time this sort of design was pushed out into the spotlight of a popular cultural nova. so much attention was lavished on all things warhol at this point that when this book came out, money was SPENT. these books were so elaborate that you really couldn’t print many of them and they all were sold immediately. re-prints removed much of the clever weird little novelties and gimmicks, but that “anti-design” remained. and it later flourished. like a weed.

so, did andy invent punk graphics? a lot of the ‘culture mavens’ and high-end critics say, YES. but, i say, NO. the obscure and otherwise unknown david paul invented punk graphics.

and i suspect he did it in anger and frustration to piss off andy.

and andy loved it.


AC: chihuly hires other artists to take them out of competition. it’s an old technique. nothing new there. he buys his competition and puts them to work on nothing and pays them enough to eat. not exactly ‘helping the arts community’ like he brags… andy warhol was being interviewed (on camera) while he was putting little ‘scribbles’ in the corners of his ‘mao’ series with a marking pen. when asked why he was doing that, he replied, “because it makes it look arty.”…

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