Regularly hailed as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Andy Warhol could be seen as the original influencer, his personal and artistic style imitated endlessly by his peers and later generations. Today the art world has no parallel, the closest we come to a figure of Andy Warhol’s genius and presence is perhaps to be found in power couple Kanye West and Kim Kardashian but there’s still a way to go…
Here we take a look at what emerging influencers can learn from the prince of Pop Art who became one of the first artists to turn himself into a global brand.
1. Make friends in all the right places / #growyournetwork
From Lou Reed and Basquiat to Edie Sedgwick and Grace Jones, Warhol knew how to surround himself with the brightest and the beautiful of New York. When he opened the Factory in 1962 it became a space for artists, film stars, drag queens, musicians, actors, models and writers to hang out and have their faces immortalised in print. Any influencer worth their salt knows the power of growing their network; from engaging with your followers to partnering with other famous figures on various platforms, it pays to be social.
2. Hold your audience captive / #engageyourfollowers
In 1981 Jorgen Leth made a film of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger. That’s it. Nothing else happens but somehow for four banal and glorious minutes, we are held by the intensity of the artist’s gaze and the deliberation with which he consumes a Whopper. As an artist who was fascinated by the medium of television, Warhol knows how to capture an audience, breaking the fourth wall to engage directly with the viewer. Similarly, today’s social media users enjoy content that is engaging and aesthetically appealing, with stats showing that posts that get the most likes are those that reveal a new side to the influencer, going beyond the facade of fame.
3. Make your life your work / #postpostpost
Like a true influencer Warhol made his life his art and his art his life – something that is reflected in this statement: “I suppose I have a really loose interpretation of ‘work,’ because I think that just being alive is so much work at something you don’t always want to do.” In this way his life became a gesamtkunstwerk, his every gesture and utterance made with the knowledge of being an icon. Nowadays every guide to being an influencer will tell you to post regularly and consistently; plan a strategy for your content and, like Andy with his hundreds of screen prints, stay on brand.
4. The art of business / #ad
When he began to make money from his art, this approach soon developed into a business ethos. From the many films he made at the Factory about his life and those who starred in it, to the silk screened prints of dollar signs, Warhol was not one to shy away from the more commercialised side of art. “Business art is the step that comes after art,” he said, “I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist. Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art … making money is art, and working is art – and good business is the best art.” Many derided Warhol’s decision to make silkscreen portraits on demand at $25,000 a pop, but in the end these did little to tarnish his reputation. Most wannabe influencers today can expect to start receiving partnership requests from brands once they reach that all important 10,000 followers mark; whether you’re Kylie Jenner or Huda Kattan, embracing product placement and endorsements is just good business. As your following and engagement grows you can expect your bank balance to as well; reports indicate that if you have over 100,000 followers you can expect to be paid $2,700 USD by brands while those who reach 4–20 million followers can make an eye watering $6,000 to $17,500 per sponsored post.
5. Never underestimate the power of the polaroid / #selfie #ootd
Anyone who’s taken a selfie before knows the power of a good pout, a ring light and finding the right filter. But all this was yet to be invented in Warhol’s day. Some of his most powerful works of art consist of snapshots of his friends or sitters; caught in the bright flash of the polaroid they become immortal icons of a lost time and place. And while the darlings of New York in the 70s are all benefitting from the limelight, almost none of them are smiling. Warhol himself rarely smiled in photographs which only added to his allure as an artist who managed to be both aloof and in tune to the desires of the everyman.
6. Work out your signature look / #ownit
You can learn a lot from the man who said: “I had a lot of dates, but I decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows.” Sometimes image is everything and a signature look can be key to getting your voice heard. While Warhol was regularly to be found behind the camera rather than in front of it it he made sure that when he was the subject his appearance was impeccable, his uniform of side parted white hair, black polo neck and glasses becoming his most constant feature while his art was chameleon-like in its ability to switch between styles and fashions. Similarly, today influencers such as Casey Neistat is known for wearing his classic Wayfarer Ray Bans day and night, artfully customised of course.
7. Always be outrageous / #instagood
Because, remember, “Art is what you can get away with” and no one pushed the boundaries more than Warhol with his open embracing of commercialism contrasted with his arthouse and often erotic films. But most importantly, don’t be afraid to promote yourself, whether it’s through a #humblebrag or by saying outrageous things; Warhol is known as much for his pithy one liners as his art, i.e. “Most people in America think Art is a man’s name.” Some influencers do this unwittingly of course, such as when Grimes posted her elaborate workout routine on Instagram which included ‘2–4 hours in a deprivation tank’ and ‘1–2 hour afternoon sword practice’. The post soon went viral, leading to admiration and ridicule alike from fans and commentators.
8. Irony is everything / #firstworldproblems
While Warhol went around saying outrageous things and making outrageous art he did so knowingly. Like any savvy influencer he was careful not to believe his own press and knew the value of satire and wit; in his words, he was “a deeply superficial person.” The most successful influencers know the value of tapping into their audience’s sense of humour, and a little self deprecation shows you’re human. So make like Amy Sedaris, Adele, Elizabeth Olsen – who posts unflattering paparazzi photographs of herself eating – or Busy Phillips and don’t take yourself too seriously.
9. But most importantly, ‘you have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce’ / #hustle
Warhol got to where he did by sheer hard work. He started out designing department store windows, living with his mother and over twenty cats, until he started to make money from his art. Even once he had reached the heights of his fame he never stopped working, churning out print after print – helped by assistants of course – as well as films, paintings and installations, making him one of the most prolific artists of his time. Remember, “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” Similarly, today some of Instagram’s biggest stars always make sure to let their followers know how hard they work. Whether it’s Kevin Hart talking about #thegrind or Beyonce publishing pictures of her latest collaboration and thanking those who got her there, their posts ensure their followers know how hard they work for their affections.
10. Be popular, but untouchable / #cool
Andy Warhol invented the modern day celebrity, his pictures of his subjects are more iconic than the people themselves. When people think of Marilyn Monroe, they don’t think of the many thousands of publicity pictures taken of her during her life, bar perhaps the most memorable street vent photograph, but rather they
see her face, in repeated technicolour many times over. Warhol recognised this capacity for his subjects, and himself, to become both more famous and less real at the same time through his work. Jean Baudrillard interpreted Warhol’s “fundamental passion” as the will to explore the world as if it were only a “special effect” that puts forward the disappearance of the individual, of his will and his representation – perhaps that is Warhol’s greatest skill of all.