This essay will look at Campbell’s Soup Andy Warhol, identifying and analysing various interpretations of this artwork. Andy Warhol made various versions of his Campbell’s Soup idea: some depict soup cans painted on canvas and others were screen-printed. Some of the variations depict multiple cans of soup; others show only one can in various states of use/abandon. His Small Town Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot) painting, for example, shows a single can of soup that has been opened and is in an advanced stage of decay. His Campbell’s Soup with can opener painting shows, as the title suggests, a single intact can of soup in the process of being opened with a can opener. His 100 Cans screen print depicts, as the title suggests, 100 cans of Campbell’s soup all lined up together.
It is said that the soup cans Warhol depicted were empty, basically devoid of any substance, which is perhaps how Andy Warhol is said to have felt himself about modern life. His obsession with painting Campbell’s soup cans was explained, by Warhol, thus: “I used to drink it (the soup)I used to have the same lunch (of soup) every day for twenty years” (Warhol, 1977). For Warhol, perhaps, and certainly for viewers, the cans depicted in his Campbell’s Soup paintings and screen prints speak about the absurdity of modern life and the fact that modern life, at times, seems void of anything with any real meaning. Looking at the cans, one can become quite anxious and desperate, that the cans speak to that part of you that worries you are not enough, that your superfluous lifestyle and relationships are not substantial enough.
Another interpretation could be that the cans Warhol depicted are simply there, there is no special meaning behind them, meaning that Warhol seems to be suggesting that the cans are a symbol of how art can be anything, can mean anything. As Warhol (1977) himself stated, “a group of painters have come to the conclusion thatmodern civilization can, when transported to a canvas, become Art”. For Warhol, then, his depictions of soup cans, a very mundane household item, was meant to signify the fact that, for him, exalting this humble object to the canvas and calling it art meant that it became art. He was, perhaps, making a statement on the fact that in modern society everything is the same – tomatoes in the supermarket are all the same size (because it’s easier to shelve them), adverts use all the same principles (because that’s what market research tells them will work) and people, in general, tend to homogeneity. Painting pictures of soup cans was perhaps Warhol’s way of making people think about the sameness of modern life.
Warhol was, perhaps, also interested in finding meaning in his life. He seems to be suggesting, in his Campbell Soup that everything, even a can of soup, is beautiful and has significance if one thinks of what the can means, how the can was developed and what the can provides. As Heidegger (1993) states, Warhol realises that, “the ordinary is not ordinary; it is extraordinary”. It is a can, yes, but this can has a whole story behind it, of how the product it contains was developed, how the packaging was developed, how the whole company formed and how the product it carries can provide nourishment to people. In this sense, the can is extraordinary, a whole lesson in the creativity of humans and their ability to produce what they need. For Warhol, perhaps, depicting something so mundane was a statement that it is in the mundane that one finds their happiness and their purpose. As Warhol stated, “..I just paint things I always thought were beautiful, things you use every day and never think about” (Bourdon, 1989).
On a more practical level, as Indiana (2010) suggests, the fact that Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup paintings contain advertising messages – the can was designed by Campbell’s to sell soup, after all – can be argued to mean that Warhol was making a statement about the advertising and marketing industries. His Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato) painting depicts, for example, Campbell’s best selling soup, selling hundreds of millions of units and becoming an instantly recognisable product. The power of the brand and the design of the can was, perhaps, attractive to Warhol and this is why he decided to paint this particular can. It is a statement on the power of advertising and marketing to encourage people to buy particular brands and to become loyal to those brands. The very graphic design of the original Campbell’s label, as depicted in this painting, is visually very arresting, making for a very interesting painting. Indeed, it is arguably one of the most iconic images of twentieth century art.
It could be argued that Warhol’s depictions of Campbell’s soup cans represent some form of hyper-reality; that the bright colours and flat, 2-D, nature of the cans in the picture represent a longing to change reality, to escape modern life and to be free, in a reality that is unreachable. When the depictions are analysed, one sees vitality and energy constrained within the confines of the medium and the format Warhol chose. This is akin to the constraints that many people feel in their day-to-day lives, trapped in a 9-5 routine or a loveless marriage, confined to act and be a certain way because that’s how society expects us to live (Indiana, 2010). The depiction of the soup cans as hyper-real could be argued to be a statement on the human condition at that time in history.
In conclusion, the essay has argued that there are many different interpretations of Andy Warhol’s depiction of Campbell’s Soup. It could be argued, for example, that the paintings represent the senselessness and lonely nature of life. Or that the paintings represent Warhol’s view that anything could be made in to art. Alternatively, the depictions could mean that every day things are beautiful and that the meaning of life is found in the small, mundane, every day items. The depictions could, alternatively, be a statement from Warhol on his view of advertising and marketing, that a visual as arresting as the Campbell’s packaging is a testament to the power of good design linked to effective marketing plan. Whatever the meaning in Warhol’s depictions of Campbell’s soup cans, his approach to art changed the art world forever and led the way to the development of new movements in art.
Bourdon, D. 1989. Warhol. New York: Penguin.
Heidegger, M. 1993. Basic writings: from Being and Time to The Task of Thinking. New York: Harper Collins.
Indiana, G. 2010. Andy Warhol and the can that sold the world. New York: Basic Books.
Warhol, A. 1977. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and back again). New York: Mariner Books.