Love Advice from Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol had a reputation for poo-pooing love. He often told peers that he wasn’t susceptible to the emotion—and certainly didn’t act on it. At the age of 52, the Pop art king confessed to his biographer that he was still a virgin. (It wasn’t true.)
But a closer look at the artist’s interviews and writing reveals a deep, sincere preoccupation with the concept of love. Warhol spent a lot of time thinking about the emotion and the events that often accompany it, like marriage and sex. He made work about love, too. In 1983, four years before his death, he produced a series of silkscreens succinctly titled “Love.” They show two figures, both radiating with neon auras, in a range of tender embraces. The graphic nudity of earlier projects, like “Sex Parts” (1978)—a veritable portfolio of turgid phalluses—is gone here, replaced by something more tender.
Below, we explore Warhol’s shape-shifting attitudes on love through his own words, drawn from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), the artist’s 1975 autobiography-cum-self-help book. Sometimes, his commentary reveals a distaste for dizzying feelings like affection; elsewhere, he speaks reverently about the importance of mutual respect in a romantic relationship. But most often, he ponders the mysteries of devotion and passion, waxing poetic on what makes relationships meaningful, sustainable, and—yes—enduringly steamy.
Kids should learn that love isn’t perfect
“People have so many problems with love,” Warhol opined in 1975, “always looking for someone to be their Via Veneto, their soufflé that can’t fall.” In a chapter of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol entitled “Love (Senility),” the artist suggests that early education could alleviate later disappointments related to love and sex. “There should be a course in the first grade on love,” he continued. The imagined class would provide a reality check, teaching children that relationships aren’t all sunshine and roses.
In particular, Warhol hoped the course would remove the façade of perfection that cloaked relationships in the 1960s and ’70s. He’d learned about love through television and movies, only to make the disappointing discovery that on-screen romances bore no resemblance to real life. “In those days, you did learn something about some kind of love from the movies, but it was nothing you could apply with any reasonable results,” he explained. The saccharine relationship between John Gavin and Susan Hayward in the 1961 film Back Street proved particularly frustrating to Warhol: “They kept saying was how wonderful every precious moment they had together was, and so every precious moment was a testimonial to every precious moment.”
Someone needed to tell the kids what love was really about: constant ups and downs; mercurial chemistry. Warhol believed that movies held the potential to show “how it really is between people and therefore help all the people who don’t understand to know what to do, what some of their options are.”
Fantasy can keep love (and sex) alive
That said, Warhol did believe that fantasy had a place in real-world relationships—especially when it came to keeping romance and attraction alive. “Fantasy love is much better than reality love,” he wrote, with typical deadpan delivery. The statement could be read as another knock on overly optimistic, theatrical depictions of relationships. But Warhol went on to give the concept new meaning, applying it directly to physical and emotional interactions. In particular, Warhol saw fantasy as a tool to build excitement and anticipation in relationships. “The most exciting thing is not-doing-it,” he explained, alluding to sex. “If you fall in love with someone and never do it, it’s much more exciting.”
Fall in love without overthinking it
Warhol also encouraged the kind of spontaneous passion that ignores reason or planning. “People should fall in love with their eyes closed,” he wrote. “Just close your eyes. Don’t look.” His instruction suggests that people shouldn’t preemptively engineer who and how they love; instead, they should approach the process instinctively and with a healthy dose of abandon. “The best love is not-to-think-about-it love,” he continued.
Warhol alluded to his own penchant for overthinking things when he extended this theory beyond love to sex. He praises the people who “can have sex and really let their minds go blank” over those who become preoccupied with distracting questions like: “Can this really be me? Am I really doing this?…What would Mom say?” According to the artist, the former group was “better off.” But he didn’t leave the latter set in the dust. “The other type has to find something else to relax with and get lost in,” he offered as advice.
Make time and space for yourself
While Warhol advocated for falling deeply and fearlessly in love, he also encouraged taking time for yourself. Only then, the artist seemed to suggest, could a relationship last beyond the lust phase. “The biggest price you pay for love is that you have to have somebody around,” he wrote. “You can’t be on your own, which is always so much better.” He provided a humorously blunt example of this conundrum: “The biggest disadvantage, of course, is no room in bed. Even a pet cuts into your bed room.”
Warhol famously never married. His only “wife,” he said, was his tape recorder, which he brought with him wherever he went, using it to interview the eccentric crew of downtown creatives that surrounded him. While he didn’t open up about his most profound romantic relationships—with artists Edward Wallowitch, John Giorno, and Jed Johnson—he did describe one successful rapport in detail. He called her his “telephone mate,” a woman with which he had “an ongoing relationship over the phone for six years.” In a long paragraph, he described the key to its success: healthy distance. “I live uptown and she lives downtown,” he wrote. “It’s a wonderful arrangement: We don’t have to get each other’s bad morning breath, yet we have wonderful breakfasts together every morning like every other happy couple.”
You and your partner should put in equal time and energy
“I wonder if it’s possible to have a love affair that lasts forever,” Warhol mused. His autobiography makes clear that he’d considered the question at length, likely from a young age. In the same section, he remembers his mother telling him “not to worry about love, just to be sure to get married.” This love-marriage binary, and the idea that either could be sustained for a lifetime, clearly preoccupied Warhol. “If you’re married for thirty years and you’re ‘cooking breakfast for the one you love’ and he walks in, does his heart really skip a beat?” he asks. But before giving into sentimentality, he stops himself: “I guess it skips a beat over that breakfast and that’s nice too. It’s nice to have a little breakfast made for you.”
Albeit introduced with classic pessimism, Warhol did give one insightful clue as to what might sustain a successful, loving relationship. “Love affairs get too involved, and they’re not really worth it,” he said. “But if, for some reason, you feel that they are, you should put in exactly as much time and energy as the other person.” In other words, be present in the relationship and make sure that both partners give equally to each other. Or, in Warhol’s ever-deadpan terminology: “I’ll pay you if you pay me.”