MEDA102, Uncategorized

Is that you Marilyn?

Art is ever-changing and evolving in response to the current state of the world. It is in this state tracking nature that art too reveals the code; encoded by the artist and decoded by the audience—thus the codification of history and values represented through art.

Marilyn Monroe 1967, Silkscreen
Marilyn Monroe 1967, Silkscreen

‘Marilyn Monroe’, created by Andy Warhol in 1967—discussed in the first lecture—was an artwork that changed the face of art as the ‘mechanical reproduction of art changed the reaction of the masses toward art’ (Benjamin. W 1998). It was here that Pop Art was born, challenging the conventions of artmaking practice by using a tool of mass mediathe silkscreen—in order to ‘bring art back to America’ (Warhol. A). In this, Warhol aimed to democratize the work of art where the entirety of the public can view, respond and decode art that was created for them and by them.

After World War II, Pop Art emerged in response to the consumeristic and materialistic values of the 1960’s where a disposable income; fuelled the economy, mass media and pop culture became the language of the masses. Marilyn Monroe was a pop culture icon, actress, model, singer and icon during the early 1950’s. After her overdose which shocked the world on August 5th 1962, Warhol harnessed the conversation centred around the icon to create an everlasting code to join his celebrity/death series within Pop Art.

Gene Korman, publicity shot for 'Niagra'
Gene Korman, publicity shot for ‘Niagra’

With the audiences language rooted deep into American values and ways of life, Warhol appropriated a public shot of Monroe taken by Gene Korman for her film Niagra and coded it into a silkscreen oil painting consisting of the repetition of the single image. The repetition of the same subject matter was only made possible by the new technique of the silk screen which challenged the traditional practices of artmaking—thus the instrumentalisation of the human process of painting to create an algorithm of repetition. Warhol created “a precursor of a perfect and universal hybridization of art, of a new aesthetics after all aesthetics have disappeared.”(Baudrillard, J 1983). For the first time in art history, Pop Art invited all to decode the artwork as it resonated deeply within their individual lives thus removing the class segregation. This opened up a world of possibilities for the future of art and artmaking practice as cultural and citizen language—one obsessed with pop culture—became the code universally decoded by all. However this meant that the code was drastically altered.

Fountain 1917, Marcel Duchamp
Fountain 1917, Marcel Duchamp

Technological change meant that the mode of extracting the code too also changed. Andy Warhol, as a trained commercial artist in adverting wanted to merge the gap between high culture—theatre and artwork—with low culture—advertisements and pop culture. Much like Duchamp whom used the gallery space to showcase a ready-made urinal in a different perspective, Warhol too used the gallery space—which was accustomed to the showcase of original and high culture works of art—to display a time capsule of the values of an everyday American citizen through commercial art practices. Therefore, every person was able to decode the artwork as their values were the language.

Convergence, 1952, Jackson Pollock

The use of silkscreening allowed for repetition but also variation enticing perspective. The use of the same template allowed for colours to be changed creating an aesthetically pleasing work. However, with this process there are also limitations that hinder artistic creativity and breadth to explore. The art period Abstract Expressionism that preceded Pop Art was one characterised by line, colour and shape painted without form or strict planning. Pop art juxtaposes this with a strict template restricting the creative flow typically given to artists such as Jackson Pollock. The use of a silk screen—which was the means for mass production to create advertisements—limited the artworks potential to be accepted within the high-art world. Art critic, Lawrence Alloway whom gave Pop Art its name stated that the movement was ‘the lower end of a pop-art to fine art continuum’, meaning that it wasn’t as freely accepted within the art world.

Andy Warhol and the process of silk screening
Andy Warhol and the process of silk screening

The process of creating very similar artworks or copies of ‘Marilyn Monroe’ which spread across the decade created a fear of the loss of aura. Walter Benjamin stated that ‘the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition’(1998). Thus, the use of the silkscreen deters art from its natural form of oil on canvas and pushes it toward the workings of commercial production familiar with that of mass production, challenging what it means to be art. Although, in contrast to Benjamin, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ becomes the tradition as the values of society are compressed into the code of block colours, the use of appropriated images and grid format. These characteristics of Pop Art exemplified within ‘Marilyn Monroe’ transcend time and become a code ultimately used to tell the tale of the past to those in the present time.

Although, is it really providing an insight into the past if it is not an original?

Andy Warhol blurs the line between original and representation. On the surface, ‘Marilyn Monore’ is merely an image of Marilyn herself, the repetition of the same public shot of Marilyn Monore, and a reproduction of the first ‘Marilyn Monroe’ silk screen artwork. However, the artwork has become a reference point, one with its own values overextended into reality to stand on its own where it now exists asits own pure simulacrum(Baudrillard, J, 1983).

“It is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum: not unreal, but a simulacrum, never again exchanging for what is real, but exchanging in itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.” (Baudrillard. J,1983)

Consequently, ‘Marilyn Monroebecomes a code in itself, a visible display of the values of the early 1960’s. Pop Art, as an avante-garde artform at the time was laced with limitations such as the lack of artistic freedom, the fear of the loss of originality and the aura and the rejection from galleries. However, amidst this, it was interwoven with affordances allowing the language of the audience to become the code, allowing all to understand thus paving the way for artistic licence for new artmaking practices.


Baudrillard, J 1983, ‘Simulacra and Simulation’ University of Michigan’, last viewed 16 August 2015 <;

Benjamin,W 1996, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, Schocken/Random House, last viewed 16 August 2015 <>

Carpenter,B 2010 ‘The divine Simulacrum of Andy Warhol:Baudrilard’s Light on the Pope of Pop’s “Religious Art”’, last viewed 16 August 2015 <;

Chestershire Films 2013, ‘Andy Warhol Documentary Film Part 1 of 2’ [online video] last viewed 15 August 2015

Curley, John J 2014, ‘Andy Warhol’, Oxford University Press, last viewed 18 August 2015 <>


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