Fantasy and Reality in Andy Warhol

Your “aura” is something you have before you open your mouth, says Andy Warhol. People see you and make an impression of you in their minds. If it’s very favourable or very unfavourable, then perhaps you seem to have an “aura”, a presence that fascinates or repels them. And then you open your mouth.

It doesn’t matter who you are. There’s fantasy at work here: their initial impression of you created something in their mind that wasn’t you at all. They’ve made up all kinds of stories about you – what kind of school you went to, what kind of thing you do for a living, what and how much you like to drink – even if only unconsciously. We all do this all the time with people we just met, as long as they make any impression at all, whether good or bad.

It’s not your fault you burst their bubble. You didn’t write those stories in their mind. You might say your aura did, but it’s more accurate to say they did it to themselves.

And so you open your mouth, and reality kills the fantasy. For better or for worse.

There’s nothing magical about reality. This is why Warhol thinks fantasy is so great. We should be able to hold onto fantasy for as long as possible. Warhol says that we should all remain babies until we are 40 years old, and only then learn the facts of life.

That way, the fantastic part of life, the magical part, could last so much longer. The disappointment would come at one blow, and then be done with.

If there were no opportunity to create fantasies at all, there would be no let-down. Warhol says that he gets bored of meeting celebrities. They never live up to the expectations you had of meeting them, and they’re so easy to meet anyway – for someone like Warhol. The people he likes is to meet are those people he never thought he’d meet in a million years.

He gives an example: in 1972 he met The Singing Lady he’d always listened to on the radio. He’d never even thought about the possibility of meeting her, and so the meeting was something entirely new. It hadn’t been made old through preparation and expectation. He’d had no opportunity to create a fantasy about meeting her.

No fantasy, no let-down.

This method of avoiding fantasy to make reality more bearable would inform his casting choices too, he says. I don’t think he’s talking about his own films here, which, to my knowledge, are all depictions of real life and don’t tend to involve acting. I think he’s talking about if he were to work on a Hollywood film.

He says he would take care to choose the wrong person for the role. Professional actors – the “right” people for the roles – are too predictable, he says. You’re expecting something great and you get it, but it’s the same old thing and so it’s a let-down.

Better to choose an amateur. Amateurs are great, Warhol says, because you never know what they’re going to do. There are no expectations, so whatever happens is new and great.

Perhaps we could say: professional actors are people who have spent a long time creating an “aura”. We go to see their films because we know what to expect from them. And when they don’t deliver it’s a crushing disappointment. When they do deliver it’s a disappointment too, but we don’t tend to consciously notice that. We don’t realise that what we really want is reality, and that seeing these same Hollywood films over and over leaves us empty.

Amateurs don’t have these Hollywood auras, because they’re real. Their appeal will come from what they do, not from any expectation you have of them. What you will see will be real, for better or worse.

What Andy Warhol seems to be saying is: fantasy and reality are both great. Fantasy is what we live for, but reality is what surprises us and makes life worth living. Modern life is a mixture of both, and that is what makes it so painful and so interesting.

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