On the subject of John Cage and his 4′33″, our frequent correspondent John Salmon writes,

The apotheosis of modern art is Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can images.

Perfectly distilled cynicism: Art is Commerce, Commerce is Art. The idea of drawing a distinction between the two is now hopelessly passé. Warhol’s singularity of purpose is almost admirable. Almost.

Though I suppose we need to see who has the publishing rights to 4’ 33”, and whether Cage’s estate is rolling in dough as a result.

Dr. Boli agrees with Mr. Salmon’s assessment of Warhol. We should also remember that Andy Warhol had been a top commercial artist in the 1950s. Every trendy jazz combo had to have an album cover by Andy Warhol. We thus add another layer of cynicism: “So, ‘fine’ artists can get rich and be megacelebrities, while ‘commercial’ artists sweat in third-floor studios at the beck and call of corporate vice presidents. Hmmm…”

Andy Warhol did us an inestimable favor by pointing out that whoever designed the brand identity for Campbell’s Soup was an artist of consummate skill. As his payment for that favor, Warhol took all the money and the fame for himself, and the commercial artist got nothing. Andy had figured out who got the gravy, and he slathered himself in gravy for the rest of his life.

Visitors to Pittsburgh should make a pilgrimage to the Andy Warhol Museum. You should visit even, or perhaps especially, if you do not like Warhol very much. First, it is the world’s largest museum devoted to a single artist, and you can tell your friends you were there. Second, it has room for a whole floor of Warhol’s commercial art, and you can enjoy his distinct style and appreciate why it was so much in demand before he abandoned the field. Third, the curators understand that Andy Warhol’s greatest work was not anything he produced, but the art of being Andy Warhol, and they have done a very good job of conveying what being Andy Warhol was about.

Incidentally, it is Wikimedia’s determination that a sound file of 4′33″, which has no content whatsoever, does not rise to the level of originality required to establish a copyright under American law. The score, however, would contain directions to the performer that would be subject to copyright. It would be interesting to bring a case to court where someone created a different score that, printed, did not resemble the Cage composition at all, but produced the same result down to the duration and the “movement” divisions. A case like that might not set a precedent, but it would give the judge and lawyers involved something to tell stories about for the rest of their lives.


  1. John Salmon says:

    There is no truth to the rumor that celebrated jazz beboppers enjoy stretching out on those iconic 4’ 33” changes, though I have heard Felonious Thelonius has sampled it.

  2. GP says:

    It’s not that big of a building, if we started a collection I bet we could buy ourself a warehouse and make the NEW world’s largest museum dedicated to a single artist (probably Grant Wood, but I’m open to suggestions)

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