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Andy Warhol and Boredom

Andy Warhol seemed to embrace "boredom" as an artistic concept in at least several interviews he gave to the press. For instance, In regard to his films, there is the well-known "always leave them wanting less" quote. The quote appears in Popism where it is included by Pat Hackett, writing as Warhol, during a film festival in Ann Arbor in March 1966 at which the Velvet Underground were playing:

I'd sit on the steps in the lobby during intermissions and people from the local papers and school papers would interview me, ask about my movies, what we were trying to do. 'If they can take it for ten minutes, then we play it for fifteen, ' I'd explain. 'That's our policy. Always leave them wanting less. (p. 154)

One could also argue that repetition produces boredom. If they can take one painting of a soup can, why not give them 100?

"Boredom" was not a new concept in art by the time Andy got around to it. It's difficult to sit through Satie's Vexations without becoming bored at some point. Henry Geldzahler compared Warhol's film, Sleep, to Satie's Vexations in an ad that appeared in the 16 January 1964 issue of the Village Voice. (See also "Notes on John Cage, Erik Satie's Vexations and Andy Warhol's Sleep.")

Probably more of an influence was John Cage. Warhol's quote is similar to Cage's quote, "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all." (Kenneth Goldsmith, "Being Boring,")

The "boredom" of Cage is also referred to in Brad Gooch's biography of Frank O'Hara - City Poet, The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara (NY: HarperCollins, 2014)

Brad Gooch:

"The next day O'Hara and [John] Ashbery attended a concert of John Cage's Music for Changes performed by David Tudor at the home of Judith Malina and Julian Beck's migratory Living Theatre, the Cherry Lane Theatre on Commerce Street... 'When John Cage had his first concerts,' O'Hara later told a television interviewer, 'or not his first but, you know, there was a limited audience, and it was bored and so forth, a lot of it. But everybody went because they had to know about, whether they were bored or they weren't bored, they felt it was important to know what John Cage thought, or did, or sounded like.' The piece was a piano work lasting over an hour and consisting almost entirely of tone clusters struck randomly up and down the keyboard, according to a coin-tossing method adapted from the I Ching. As Ashbery later told John Gruen, 'It had very little rhythm and it just went on and on until you sort of went not out of your mind but into your mind." (p. 209)

In a 1969 interview by Joseph Gelmis, originally published in The Film Director as Superstar (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970) and later reprinted in I'll be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews edited by Kenneth Goldsmith (NY: Carroll & Graf, 2004), Gelmis asks Warhol about boredom but Warhol answers in his usual nebulous manner:

JG: You've said, 'I like boring things.' How can entertainment be boring?

AW: When you sit and look out of a window, that's enjoyable.

JG: Why, because you can't figure out what's going to happen, what's going to be passing in front of you?

AW: It takes up time.

JG: Are you serious?

AW: Yeah. Really. You see people looking out of their windows all the time. I do. (I'll Be Your Mirror, p. 168-9)

Although Warhol may have liked "boring things," earlier in the interview he talks about avoiding boredom by showing his films in double screen: "I put two things on the screen in Chelsea Girls so you could look at one picture if you were bored with the other." (Mirror, p. 166) Yet, in his earlier films such as Empire, he seemed to want to induce a state of "boredom" in the viewer. What could be more boring than an eight hour film of a static building in which very little happens?

(See also William S. Wilson's essay, "Prince of Boredom: The Repetitions and Passivities of Andy Warhol.")

Gary Comenas, 2014

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