Andy Warhol was an artist who was popular in the 50s, 60s, and 70s and most of the 80s. He became known for his pop art and silkscreen-made paintings.
However, Warhol was also famous for a lot of other things besides his paintings. He was almost like a renaissance man. He not only did paintings, he also did films like the Chelsea Girls and MTV’s 15 minutes. In addition, he wrote for the magazine Interview.
He’s also well-known for his sayings. In interviews, he would provide pithy-and-insightful remarks about art and business, of the most memorable being “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” A salient remark indeed considering the proliferation of mass media and the internet which wasn’t nearly as developed in Warhol’s time as it is today.
And then another famous saying: “Good business is the best art.”
But aside from his insightful cultural critiques, there is still a lot we can learn from this artist, even today. How is it, for example, that we still remember this artist whose was minimalist in presentation and, to use the word used by Rene Ricard, “decorative.”
Because like many of the other great artists of his time, like P.T. Barnum and Poe, Andy Warhol built his career—his business art — using time-tested and proven marketing strategies, many of which I want to briefly go over so you know who this man truly was. He wasn’t just an artist, and he wasn’t just a celebrity. He wasn’t just a painter who focused on media and commercialism. He was also an excellent businessman and a marketer.
He had many of the qualities that many successful writers point out to people about what it takes to make a name for yourself and make your work stand out (There’s even a book called Stand Out about this topic). It’s really quite an impressive feat considering how challenging it is to take a work of art and make it seem valuable enough for people to purchase. I speak from experience as a playwright.
At the height of Andy’s career, he could charge upwards of 200K for some of his paintings and eventually he became a millionaire. Even today his paintings go for millions of dollars. So, his legacy lives on in a way. And it speaks to how savvy this man was in making his career grow and prosper.
Marketing Lessons from Andy Warhol
I want to list some marketing lessons that I gleaned from his transcribed diaries, co-created with the aid of his former assistant Pat Hackett. The Andy Warhol Diaries is a mammoth achievement, an 800-page book of the last decade of Warhol’s life. The book itself takes at least 2 months to read if you’re reading ten pages a day, every day.
Well, a few grey hairs later, I finally read it. All of it. And I can honestly say that there’s a lot of wisdom in this book. Too much wisdom for me to tell you all about it but I do want to talk a bit about some marketing strategies he used that were the most salient and memorable (and useful) for not just me but possibly for you readers who are looking for ideas on how to market yourselves just like Warhol, like a memorable artist.
Connecting with celebrities
The one thing he was masterful at was positioning. At one point in his diaries, he’s talking to Pat Hackett and says on page 646 “Look. Here’s how it all works: You meet rich people and you hang around with them and one night they’ve had a few drinks and they say ‘I’ll buy it!’ Then they tell their friends. ‘You must have his work, darling,’ and that’s all you need. I mean, it’s like Schnabel sitting there with Philip Niarchos. That’s all it takes. So you get your price established. Get it?”
So, his strategy was to sell to rich celebrities and to position himself by taking photos with them, writing about them, and doing their paintings. He spent a majority or a bulk of his career surrounding himself and rubbing shoulders with individuals who were famous for something, anything, mostly in New York City where the opportunities multiplied. By constantly being around these celebrities in big cities,he was able to make himself appear worth more money and accomplished, to make himself appear more valuable and busy. In essence, he became famous for being famous.
And as many of you have heard, and the saying is often true, perception is reality.Andy Kaufman, or Jim Carrey they are basically the same person now.
So, if you see somebody who seems to be with important people, then naturally, you will think, “Oh, that person must be important.” It wasn’t just being around them that also helped market his artwork and his creativity, though, it was also being able to network with different people and different connectors who had connections with the types of clients he wanted to work with, those able to afford the asking price of a $25K vanity portrait. Like a Fiverr or Upwork freelancer, he would be hired to perform these standalone gigs. He would take pictures of celebrities, silkscreen them, and paint the portraits. Sometimes, some people would even request revisions of him. In a few cases, some people even asked for their money back.
I also want to clarify that Fred Hughes was Andy Warhol’s promoter. This is rarely stated because of just how famous Andy Warhol became. Fred Hughes is often consigned as a footnote in the history of Andy Warhol’s achievements but without Fred, Andy Warhol could not have been as popular as quickly as he had been. Having a promoter who took a cut of the proceeds was absolutely critical for Warhol. Hughes states as much in one of his last recorded videos before his death, which you can see on YouTube.
Fred was the man who made sure to get Andy Warhol’s art work into the European markets. And he also booked different events in different parties and dinners that Warhol could attend that promised to present opportunities for getting new clients, and it was Fred’s hobnobbing with various organizations and charities and people and celebrities that helped Warhol get even more notoriety and expand his sphere of influence and subsequent output. It was also Fred who helped Andy procure different celebrities for interviews with the magazine Interview.
Ultimately, without Fred, Andy couldn’t nearly have gotten as far as he did; he was always behind the scenes making sure to make Andy’s work proliferate and make him more lucrative. In fact, no contract was ever signed or agreed on without Fred’s pre-approval and negotiations with the prospective client. That was all done on Fred’s side. Andy just did the painting work.
But Warhol had a multifaceted, cross-promotional campaign for himself too that he nurtured. He did movies, magazine interviews, and went to parties. All these events served to cross-promote and showoff the work that he was doing. In essence, he made himself ubiquitous amongst the elite of New York and Europe, to the point where he actually hired lookalikes to pose as him and attend other parties he couldn’t attend.
Publishing books and self-promoting
Andy Warhol also “wrote,” books. I put “wrote,” in quotes because they weren’t really written by him, they were mostly ghostwritten by Pat Hackett and edited by several other people. After going through a lengthy transcription and editing process, onlythen Andy Warhol read the book. He had an image to uphold and the editors on his staff wrote the book in a way to maintain that image. The Philosophy book, for example, reads more like a caricature of how the public perceived Andy than the actual complex, sometimes indecisive and sometimes conflicted character that he was. It has often been said that what you say about yourself is not as important as what other people say about you, and this was especially true for Warhol’s writings which are ghostwritten. So literally his life as told by others kept him relevant. So get someone to write about you!
Distribution the Old Fashioned Way
Once Warhol’s books and magazines were published and printed in physical form, he would take stacks of these physical copies and make rounds with them, door to door, so to speak. He would also hand his books out at parties, and did public signings to make them worth more money.
He also gave a lot of artworks out to different friends, especially his Dollar artwork where he would draw dollar signs and they would then be worth far more money just because it was Warhol who painted them (this fact I originally discovered from the book Think Like an Artist by Will Gompertz). Warhol loved being able to make his own dollar sign-drawings into actual money. It was literally the Midas Touch that we all wish we had.
Warhol was always fixated on promoting himself and promoting the work that he was doing and the people he was with. If you read his diaries, you’ll notice that nearly every other sentence was “[So-and-so] was there.” He always loved mentioning who was at his parties and loved talking about the gossip he heard from others and the projects that were taking place where he was. It was positioning but it was also networking in a way that didn’t directly present itself as prurient self-interest. It was casual-yet-high profile partying that led to big lucrative deals.
And it wasn’t that he just painted for commercial profits either. He wanted his whole life to be commercial, he wanted to live through his art, in his business dealings. And it was almost like he was a living embodiment of art and the art that he wanted to make; in essence, he made himself a living and breathing art installation, and this was a great positioning strategy in itself, from a marketing standpoint. People knew what he was and there was never any deviation from it. He had a definite chief aim in life (to quote Napoleon Hill) and he went for it.
What struck me about Warhol’s life was just how dedicated he was to his work. Nearly everything he did was to lead back to the art work that he wanted to do. From the people that he hung out with to the social circles he traveled in, everything around Warhol was designed, by him, to promote and support the artwork that he wanted to do. He was never encumbered much by romance or the other trappings of modern day middle class life which tend to hoodwink the better part of us. He stumbled a few times, but for the most part, he was very aligned with his purpose and the life he needed to build to realize that purpose.
There are definitely some really fascinating elements of the way Andy Warhol was able to make his legacy live on and endure and continue. For more information on this, I highly recommend you check out his diaries for a more in-depth study than what I can provide here, in this single article.Suffice it to say that Andy Warhol was always about business, and everything he ever did was to fuel the art that he used to generate money for a comfortable life.
Todd Persaud holds a BFA from New School University and an MA in Applied Sociology from William Paterson University. He has been published all over the internet on teaching English, including EFL Magazine and ESL Authority. He has taught in over 5 countries, and currently resides in Da Nang, Vietnam where he is writing a book about his experiences. He is a representative of Espresso English, and of his own God-given talents. He can be reached at ToddPersaud.com.