Why did Andy Warhol paint Campbell’s soup cans? Sure, they were a good example of Mid-Century mass production and banal commercial graphics, but so were all the other canned things on the shelves at the time. Warhol claimed that he ate Campbell’s every day for lunch, but that was probably just another cryptic Warhol-ism. Christopher Knight at the LA Times has an alternate suggestion: Warhol took the idea from Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning.
Kooning apparently used “soup” as a metaphor for his art, as it had become common slang in the New York art scene among painters. Knight cites a documentary made in 1960 featuring downtown NYC artists of the time talking about their work., where at one point de Kooning says, “Everything is already in art. Like a big bowl of soup. Everything is in there already, and you stick your hand in and you find something for you.”
Knight says that the young Warhol envied de Kooning’s fame and position “at the pinnacle of New York’s art heap.” Thus he appropriated de Kooning’s soup metaphor, took it to its logical conclusion, injected it with irony, and reproduced it a zillion times, in keeping with the standard Warhol M.O. for everything.
Do you buy this explanation for the soup cans? It’s compelling, but it sort of reduces the cans to the art equivalent of a diss track.