Andy warhol’s brillo box: an artist study
Postmodernism, as a school of thought, influenced the very many ways in and through which we view the world, life and even reality. Such influence manifests itself in diverse areas of human interests, even the sciences. The most prominent influence of postmodern thought though may be seen in the area of art. To a certain extent, postmodern thought is liberating in the sense that it challenges what we mean by art and what counts as an artwork.
Against orthodox art, Andy Warhol explores the idea that artworks may be physically indistinguishable from everyday artifacts. An example of such an artwork is Warhol’s Brillo Box of 1965 which, according to art critic Arthur Danto, is a manifestation of Warhol’s philosophical intelligence. Danto wrote the following:
I believe it was among Warhol’s chief philosophical contributions to the history of art that he brought artistic practice to a level of philosophical self-consciousness never before attained.
[Danto 1975, 63]
The above passage illustrates that Danto considers Warhol’s Brillo Box as a philosophical work of art. It is thus imperative that we discuss in detail what is it with this object that makes it qualify as an artwork. More so, if it is considered, philosophical.
This Warhol piece is consisted of a wooden box which is painted with the colors red, white, and blue. Warhol’s use of silkscreen paint is crucial in order to achieve the kind of texture that he intends to materialize. By using silkscreen paint, the Brillo Box creates a texture which makes it appear identical to the cardboard cartons in which boxes of Brillo pads were transported to the grocery stores in the 1960s.
Upon seeing the artwork, the question which came to my mind has something to do with how such an ordinary object may be classified by the art world and art critics as a work of art. Like Carl Plantinga, it seems to me that Warhol’s Brillo Box may change how we see all art was made just when the museums expanded. What makes the Brillo Box an artwork and those boxes which contain those Brillo pads not? These are important questions which, may be explained by going through the philosophical underpinnings of postmodern and popular art which immediately falls under art criticism and aesthetic theory.
As stated at the onset of this paper, postmodern thought challenges the ways in and through which we view the world, life and reality. Warhol’s work applies this thought to art. The Brillo Box exhibits the intentionality of the artist which may be called the artwork’s statement. This is to say that ordinary objects may be used by an artist to make a statement. Their being works of art then does not stem from their very ontology or being but on the intention provided for by the artist when the artist makes use of these ordinary, everyday objects to make a statement or to mean something. There is no structural and physical property that makes the Brillo Box an artwork. Otherwise, those boxes that were used in the 1960s to store Brillo pads should have qualified as legitimate artworks. For example, from visual art’s point of view, if we take the box’s perceptual properties as those properties which made Warhol’s Brillo Box an artwork, then there is no difference between Warhol’s and those other boxes from which we draw the line between what is a work of art and what is not. Suffice it to say that there is a meaning-making process that is involved in the making of an artwork in which the artist assigns a particular function to the object; a function, or even a meaning, that such an object did not previously possess. One may take the time to consider Pablo Picasso’s necktie to supplement this point, as an artwork that makes an original statement. “Picasso used the necktie to make a statement.” The statement, however, needs to be original since it is difficult to consider a fake as a legitimate work of art.
From a theoretical perspective, it may be seen that Warhol’s Brillo Box’s statement is directed at the very core of aesthetic theory itself and as I reckon, this is the most important aspect of his artwork. It challenges orthodox theories of art and paves the way for new ways of thinking and rethinking the problem of how to define art. As a matter of fact, the Brillo Box serves as a counterexample to the traditionalists’ view of art. Up until today, there is a felt need to articulate a satisfactory definition of art. This task is important as it is difficult since this had been the task of aesthetic theory since the time of the Ancient Greeks. Danto wrote the following:
We cannot appeal to aesthetic considerations in order to get our definition of art, in as much as we need the definition of art in order to identify the sorts of aesthetic responses appropriate to works of art in contrast with mere things. (Danto 1981, 94)
Warhol’s Brillo Box serves to challenge how we see and define art. More importantly, it serves to clarify certain issues surrounding aesthetic theory and practice. “Artwork refers to anything created to be a significantly meaningful, perceptually interesting object of experience.” Whether or not we agree with the aforementioned definition of art, as provided by Richard Lind, the definition supports the analysis that was provided in the earlier parts of this paper.
What makes the Brillo Box, as conceived by Warhol, is the meaning within which Warhol himself invests in the object. For it is in such a process that an ordinary, everyday, mundane object extended in space and time, comes into being as a work of art. This dimension, as I reckon is the essence of art. The beauty of art lies not in the much cherished objectivity of science (or so it seems). It is precisely the opposite. The beauty of art lies on its subjectivity. Like Warhol’s Brillo Box of 1965, art has layers of meaning; both for the artist who invests meaning upon his work and the audience who provides the aesthetic response to the artwork. In the final analysis, in the realm of art, Warhol’s work is still open for interpretation.
Danto, Arthur. “The Last Work of Art: Artworks and Real Things.” Aesthetics: A Critical Anthology (St. Martin’s Press, 1977
____. “The Artistic Enfranchisement of Art Objects.” Blackwell’s Guide to Aesthetics. New York: Blackwell, 2000.
Lind, Richard. “The Aesthetic Essence of Art.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. (1992) .
Platinga, Carl. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 5.1.3
 Carl Platinga, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 513.
 Arthur Danto, “The Last Work of Art: Artworks and Real Things.” Aesthetics: A Critical Anthology (St. Martin’s Press, 1977) 557.
 Richard Lind. “The Aesthetic Essence of Art.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. (1992) 128.
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