Andy Warhol’s Best Advice about Art

Happy birthday, Andy Warhol! The American artist would have been 84 today, and we’re honoring the pop art icon’s memory by revisiting some of Andy’s best advice and musings about art. Warhol delighted in contradictions and ambiguity when commenting on life and culture. Often, however, the simplicity of his quips and impressions was profound. For a man who admitted he was shy, he never seemed short on words. We’ve gathered his views on everything from the business of art, to art criticism, and finding inspiration. Head past the break for more Andy on art, and leave us your favorite quotes below.

On working in the studio

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

“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. Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery. People are working every minute. The machinery is always going. Even when you sleep.”

“The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do.”

“I really believe in empty spaces, although, as an artist, I make a lot of junk. Empty space is never-wasted space. Wasted space is any space that has art in it.”

On art criticism

“Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.”

“Remember, they’ve never seen you before in their life.”

“Why do people think artists are special? It’s just another job.”

“It’s not what you are that counts, it’s what they think you are.”

“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

“Most people in America think Art is a man’s name.”

On the business of art

“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.”

“Business art is the step that comes after art. I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist.”

“I loved working when I worked at commercial art and they told you what to do and how to do it and all you had to do was correct it and they’d say yes or no.”

“I’ve decided something: Commercial things really do stink. As soon as it becomes commercial for a mass market it really stinks.”

“I think someone should be able to do all my paintings for me.”

“You know it’s art, when the check clears.”

On finding inspiration

“You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.”

“I like to be the right thing in the wrong place and the wrong thing in the right place. Being the right thing in the wrong place and the wrong thing in the right place is worth it because something interesting always happens.”

“A lady friend of mine asked me, ‘Well, what do you love most?’ That’s how I started painting money.”

“Security breeds stagnation.”

On what art — and being an artist — is

“Art is what you can get away with.”

“My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person.”

“A picture means I know where I was every minute. That’s why I take pictures. It’s a visual diary.”

“An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have, but that he — for some reason — thinks it would be a good idea to give them.”

On trusting your instincts

“I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.”

“My instinct about painting says, ‘If you don’t think about it, it’s right.’ As soon as you have to decide and choose, it’s wrong. And the more you decide about, the more wrong it gets.”

On relying on nature and artifice

“I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own.”

“Land really is the best art.”

“I believe in low lights and trick mirrors.”

On throwing yourself into your work

“If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.”

“I do the same thing everyday. I go to work and paint. I try to turn out as many pictures as I can.”

“You really have a social disease when you make all play work. The only reason to play hard is to work hard, not the other way around like most people think.”

“I just do art because I’m ugly, and there’s nothing else for me to do.”

On understanding pop art

“Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign again the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.”

“Pop art is a way of liking things.”

“It doesn’t matter if it displays Mona Lisa, a banana or Hans Rittman’s glasses — the fact is, it must be pop!”

On the best way to paint

Edward Lucie-Smith: Why is it more of a pleasure to do 30 or 40 pictures than to do just one?

Andy Warhol: Then I can, uh, listen to my Soundabout which looks just like the thing that I’m wearing now, and you can listen to opera and stuff like that.

Edward Lucie-Smith: Does that mean you don’t have to think when you’re painting?

Andy Warhol: No, you can listen to really good music.

Edward Lucie-Smith: So, what, painting is an excuse to listen to really good music?

Andy Warhol: Oh, yeah.

[Interview with Edward Lucie-Smith/BBC, 1981]