Andy Warhol's Red Beard.

Author:Stimson, Blake
Position:Influence of Ben Shahn and Shirley Temple on Warhol

The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony.--Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp," 1964 (1)

Sometime in late 1948 or early 1949, during his final year of art school at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Andy Warhol changed his style. According to one of his classmates, he had been working in a manner indebted to Aubrey Beardsley that had earned him respect and interest from his fellow students and the support of the two most widely respected instructors when his friend and classmate Philip Pearlstein convinced him to look for a new influence. (2) Apparently, Pearlstein informed Warhol, some of the more conservative faculty did not approve of the influence drawn from Beardsley. This criticism was probably not focused only on the decorative prettiness of the Beardsleyesque drawing style--from his art school days through the 1950s, Warhol regularly made drawings with long and flowing fine lines, for example, and often ornamented with fine speckles, intricate scrolls, and intermittent strands of ink--or on his use of untoward or indecorous subject matter, something Warhol was routinely enthusiastic about as well. Also suspect, no doubt, was the Beardsley legacy of tainted ambition for the social place of art. (3) The charged mix of innocent form and less than decorous subject matter in Beardsley's delicately drawn grotesqueries had served various ends in the 1890s, of course, not the least of which was to threaten some of the loftier social distinctions made in the name of art by opening its preserve to baser social ambitions and practices: "May not our hoardings claim kinship with the galleries, and the designers of affiches pose as proudly in the public eye as the masters of Holland Road or Bond Street Barbizon," he could propose in 1894, for example, while savoring the imagined affront that "London will soon be resplendent with advertisements." (4)

The young Warhol would have had limited knowledge of this history. He came to position his work similarly between innocence and worldliness (thereby moving toward his eventual association during his art school years with Beardsley) by another path, one that I will be exploring here at some length. (5) Since childhood, he had been particularly fond of making art inspired by various contemporary mass-cultural sources, and he had a special and long-lasting obsession with the child star Shirley Temple. (6) Temple, it will be demonstrated, provided Warhol with something that would serve him well throughout his career: she modeled a manner of operating in the world--a style or comportment--that mixed both child and adult functions and attributes, both innocence and savoir faire. Like Beardsley's utopian image of London, the figure of Temple was also "resplendent with advertisements," of course; that is, her persona and her appeal were irrevocably tied to her exceptional social and economic position as a star. But despite the appeal and success of this early influence, when challenged by several of his art instructors Warhol accepted the criticism and sought out a new influence. As one classmate put it (perhaps a little too bluntly), "Andy painted the way he wanted and they flunked him. So he went to summer school and painted the way they wanted." (7) Downplaying the Beardsley line and sublating the mixed bearing and resplendent sheen he drew from Temple, he took on the 1930s, Social Realist themes, and coarse, ragged-line, blotted-ink drawing style of Ben Shahn.

What I undertake here is an analysis of influence: the influence of two very different sorts of artists, Ben Shahn and Shirley Temple, and two very different sorts of social roles for artists, those of the moralist and the darling, on the work of Andy Warhol. It is the confluence in 1948 or 1949 of these two artistic influences drawn from distinct and largely discrete cultures of the 1930s--the fellow-traveler culture of the Red Decade on the one hand and Hollywood's golden age on the other-and its significance for Warhol's tremendously influential work of the 1960s, that is the subject of this paper.8

At the center of my investigation will be a particular version of influence--that which comes with passing, or adopting an identity in order to gain access to a realm of legitimation and authority not otherwise available? In the case of Warhol, as it has been for many others, passing also harbored a supplemental function. Not only did it provide entree into restricted circles, it also carried a significant capacity to upset the criteria that maintained the boundary between inside and outside passed over in the first place. At this moment in its social economy, when it served as a liberalizing agent subverting established values, Warhol's passing became camp and was no longer concerned with convincing impersonation but instead with manifest pastiche and with developing an independent cultural economy of its own. This critical, transformative function of camp is the feature that Susan Sontag and many others after her have investigated, championed, and critiqued. "Camp is a solvent of morality. It neutralizes m oral indignation," Sontag wrote in her still influential if long controversial 1964 essay "Notes on Camp," an essay very aware of Warhol. (10) A key source for Warhol's peculiar faculty for passing, it will be demonstrated, was Shirley Temple. Where Warhol was most successful at passing and, ultimately, most influential at camping, it will be shown, was when he donned the guise of the 1930s "proletarianized American petit-bourgeois intellectual" Ben Shahn. (11)

There are two larger implications of this analysis worth introducing at the outset as a critical and historical frame for what follows. First, if the reader is convinced in the end that Warhol's version of camp emerged equally out of two discrete populist cultures of the 1930s as argued here, an alternative historicization of the rise of camp as a prominent intellectual cultural phenomenon more generally will be required. Most existing accounts of camp agree with Andrew Ross's premise that because popular cultural representation has been denied historically to queer audiences, the "lived spectatorship" of those audiences has often found expression "through imaginary or displaced relations to the straight meanings" of prominent narrative forms. (12) This idea of alternative reading and viewing practices is more dynamic in Richard Dyer's account of the gay male response to Judy Garland as a "coming together of two homologous structures." Garland's star image, Dyer argues, already represented "difference within ordinariness," which was available to be read in "both dominant and subcultural discourses" as homologous to the experience of queerness in a straight world. (13) In other words, that image was already camp prior to a gay audience coming to it and identifying with it as such: "She is not a star turned into camp but a star who expresses camp attitudes." (14)

The argument for the role played by camp's chosen objects in the development of "camp attitudes" or models of spectatorship presented here will be stronger still. An important aspect of Warhol's camp (and the mode of alternative spectatorship it represented.) it will be shown, was already formulated and, thus, influenced by those same popular culture forms that straight and queer audiences are said to respond to differently. This is not to say that those audiences did not experience their spectatorship differently in significant ways but, rather, for a wholly different set of reasons, some popular cultural forms invited their audiences to experience "imaginary or displaced relations" to socially acceptable meanings and thus provided a model for what would later emerge as camp. Insofar as Warhol influenced the rise of camp generally, this case study may be valuable for understanding its history.

Second, if the reader is convinced that we can see the story of Warhol's impact on twentieth-century art as an exemplary instance of the displacement of one of what Sontag labeled "the two pioneering forces of modem sensibility" by the other, as I argue here, then the history of high art's legitimation in a mass-cultural world is in need of reevaluation. Where modernist artists had long justified themselves through processes of critique and counteridentification with positions along a spectrum of ideals ranging from high aestheticism (and its correlate, high anti-aestheticism) to what might be called high workerism, Warhol helped to inaugurate a new manner that found professional purpose and legitimacy through the critical appropriation and abstraction of such ideals. The legitimation of this new social meaning and function for art--a role still very much with us today and one that might be labeled loosely "neo-avantgarde"--would thus need to be understood not only as post- or anti-modernist but, more specifi cally, as inextricable from the social and political dynamics of the closet. (15) The emergence of a widespread aesthetics of appropriation (as opposed to what we might call the aesthetics of influence) would need to be understood as historically inseparable from the emergence of camp.

Contending Vulgarities

As a star, Shirley Temple was readily available for Warhol's childhood attentions. According to Time magazine, in 1936 -- the year both Warhol and Temple turned eight--she was the "world's most photographed person," appearing in an average of twenty mass-media celebrity photographs daily and competing evenly with President Franklin D. Roosevelt for name recognition. She had been made an honorary officer of various children's clubs and other organizations around the world (including, for example, the Kiddies Club of England, whose 165,000 members pledged themselves to "imitate" her "character, conduct and manners"), a captain of the Texas Rangers, and mascot to the Chilean Navy. (16) Her films regularly...

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