Of course it sounds like a weird question. Why should this guy who multiplied celebrities and made peeing an art be a Hindu, except maybe because of his excessive penchant for color? Before we can answer this question we have to dare a minor philosophical detour via a man called Jean Baudrillard.
Baudrillard comes in
He is perhaps best known for his provocative sentence “the golf war did not take place”. This sounds even more absurd than the first question. Yet, for Baudrillard this is not just a silly sentence, but a corollary of his theory of simulation.
According to this theory there are three different kinds of simulacra. The first is “imitation”, the second “production”, and the third “simulation”, where everything becomes part of a simulation, a Hyperreality, since signs and reality are no longer distinguishable.
In his own words: „Simulation is that irresistible process, whereby things are interlinked as if they make sense, while they are actually organized through artificial montage and nonsense.“
Therefore, Baudrillard’s question is no really whether the golf war took place at all, but how real the representation of the war was. In fact, how real are any of the wars, which we are getting served in cut pieces for dinner on the TV screen?
While the first simulacrum is still in conflict with reality, the second is already starting to dissolve reality by identical reproduction, beginning with the industrial revolution. That is where Warhol comes in.
Warhol comes in
According to Baudrillard, Warhol satirizes this process of reproduction by means of his art. The Campbell’s Soup Cans are a reproduction. His art itself becomes a commodity and the artist a machine. Reality is about to vanish form the canvas of art.
Even with his multiplication of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and the rest of the undead dead, he possibly came to terms with the questions of reality. How real is the world seen through the eyes of the media, or any medium? How real are these people? Are they people at all, or merely a simulacrum of a person, a product, replicated in varicolored ways?
Warhol himself was pretty tight-lipped about his art and called his work around the Monroe picture as having solely a “surface reason”. Probably Baudrillard would interpret this answer not as a contradiction to his theory, as it is difficult if not impossible to apply meaning to anything in a world that lacks reality. Anyhow, the beauty of art is its democratic soul: you can create your own meaning and use it for the better.
Māyā comes in
In its essence questioning reality is a very Hinduistic thought, considering the concept of māyā. The term has as many meanings as Hinduism has philosophies – either as personalized God or as creative energy, just to name two of them.
I will use the term, however, how it is used in most writings of the Upanishads. The former president and philosopher S. Radhakrishnan described it as follows: “The doctrine of māyā gives abstract expressions to this general feature of all experience of the finite that it falls short of the absolute.”
Thus, this illusion called māyā is the reason for us to perceive things not as they are. It is this veil of duality, which covers the unity of all. The same way the concept of Hinduism and Islam tells us that we are fundamentally different, although there is a unity underlying everything.
Of course questioning reality does not make Warhol a Hindu, but if we interpret his art a certain way, we can see what he has in common with Indian philosophy. It is a mirror reflecting the question concerning reality.
The same thoughts are shared by many people around the world and seldom are they merely restricted to one pair of temples. Most philosophers like Plato, Kant, or Nāgārjuna questioned reality.
We should be philosophers as well. Like Warhol – who did it wittingly or unwittingly – we should ask how different we really are. How real my idol in the Bollywood movie is, the war on the next channel. How real the very life is that I am living. Only that way we will pierce a whole through the veil and get a peek at truth.