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Monday, May 5, 2014

Coursera: Andy Warhol

I'm starting Week 3 of a free online Coursera course about Andy Warhol offered by the University of Edinburgh. (This is the ninth Coursera course I've taken*, and I highly recommend your looking into participating in one if you have time.)

Given my fascination with the art and design of the 1950s and 1960s, this course is a perfect match for me, as those years represent Warhol's heyday. I expected it to be all video lectures and written work, but our first assignment was to create our own Warhol-like art, either in digital or analog format. Once complete, we were to answer three questions in 300 words or less: 1) How did you choose the image that you appropriated for your work? 2) Why did you chose to use either an analog or a digital method, and what challenges did this present to you? 3)  Justify the aesthetic decisions that you made (cropping, repetition, color use, etc.). 

I'm sharing my submission with you, on the condition that you promise to bear in mind I've never had any formal art training, nor am I proficient at using Photoshop. This took me completely out of my comfort zone, but I enjoyed it very much.


I chose an image of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman from an article in the New York Times by A. O. Scott entitled "An Actor Who Made Unhappiness a Joy to Watch," because, in keeping with Warhol's fascination with both fame and tragedy, Hoffman was a celebrity who recently died of a drug overdose; I felt the image captured a sense unhappiness in the actor that he portrayed so well on screen, and it reminded me of the photographic self-portraits of Warhol which employed multiple exposures.

I chose to edit the image digitally, even though my technological skills are so limited that often online tutorials assume more expertise and understanding of the subject matter than I have, making it necessary for me to go through a lengthy process of trial and error to get the level of contrast as well as the softness and graininess the way I wanted it; also, I have no training in art and taught literature for 30 years, so I had difficulty translating words into visual symbols.

I chose to crop rather tightly, because I wanted the image of Hoffman to take up most of the frame, and I chose the color blue to reflect the subject's pensive expression and the sadness that many feel as a result of his tragic death; the use of repetition allowed me to move the subject from a soft-focus living, vital person to successive frames where more and more of his full-face and profile are obliterated, until all that remains in the last frame is a grainy, somewhat macabre image that is "almost gone," in some way similar to the painted self-portraits that showed only part of Warhol's face.


*Based on my final grade and discussion forum contributions when I took the course several months ago, I've been invited to apply for a position as an online teaching assistant for an upcoming offering of a course entitled Social Psychology offered by Wesleyan University. I'm seriously considering doing it, but I have concerns that it might cut into my blogging time, as well as the duties I have with the store.

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