My feelings on The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) are rather mixed. This is not the kind of book I would usually be interested in, and I was not particularly interested in Andy Warhol until I visited the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Visiting the museum opened my eyes to the wide variety of works that Warhol created (much more than the iconic soup cans and multicolored celebrity prints) and piqued my curiosity about Warhol the man. The museum is set up chronologically and tells some of the story of Warhol’s life. When I later found a copy of this book for $1 in a Pittsburgh library, I jumped at the opportunity for a more complete picture of that life.
In many ways, this book was exactly what I expected: weird and bizarre in every way, but also full of surprising insight at times. It seems like this book can be divided into two general parts. One is the various chapters in which Warhol shares brief thoughts, stories, and ideas. The other is the several long chapters recounting specific experiences and conversations, which contain much less insight and thoughts about people and the world.
Most chapters are of the former type. Some sections are so inane or nonsensical that I paid no real attention to them; some are informatively biographical of the author; some bring up interesting points that could be pondered in depth; some make strong insights into human nature or American culture. There are quite a few of these strong insights, but every time it is a surprise because the insight is surrounded by so much general commentary or downright inanity. I very much enjoyed this part of the book. Warhol discusses many interesting topics, from American culture, to his process in creating art, to love and human relationships. The insight found in some parts makes me think that every other part has something to offer, if I had the time and proper context. This is the kind of book that would be experienced differently if read again when you’re at a different point in your life. It’s a book that deserves thought, mental notes, annotations. I did not invest that level of time in reading it; I did, however, take note of some insights, ponder interesting thoughts, and let a mental image of Warhol as a person build in my mind. Some parts of the book I enjoyed because they were simply delightful, such as Warhol’s explanation of how he bought a new perfume every three months so that he can later access the perfume in his “smell museum” to retrieve memories of those three months of its use, or his grousing about the inevitable ”diminishing return of socks” when doing laundry.
Other parts of the book, though, were much less enjoyable. The long stories and conversations with little content seem to have little purpose and were generally not worth the time to read. One chapter is 27 pages of a transcribed conversation of another person talking to Warhol about the finest details of her house cleaning routine, interrupted only occasionally by Warhol to note his progress on eating or boredom with the conversation. It’s almost as if Warhol had a word minimum to fill, and ran out of interesting thoughts to fill it with.
The book is, as would be expected, very autobiographical. There are many sections that are straightforward autobiography, and in the rest you can still develop a view of Warhol and his thought processes. Many recurring themes seem to point to a difficult/unhappy life, but the book has a very positive air, and Warhol claims to be happy and satisfied, and delves into viewpoints and attitudes useful to happiness. As I progressed through the book, I got the feeling that Warhol was working hard to project a specific persona of himself. It’s not that parts seemed inauthentic, just very carefully crafted.
This book was a generally entertaining read, if in the right mood, and I did overall enjoy and appreciate reading it. Although parts would make an interesting re-read at some future point, I will not be keeping the book. The more of the book I read, the less I enjoyed it. Between the long, irrelevant sections, and bizarre or pointless comments in the more interesting chapters, it often felt like too much of a time investment for the return in interesting material. It may be that this book is best read and digested in small (selective) sections rather than read cover-to-cover. I cannot solidly recommend this book for general reading, but I do believe that there are certain audiences who would appreciate what it has to offer.