Celebrating the Birth of Andy Warhol, an American Innovator

If, like me, you tend to view business as a form of art, I invite you to join me in celebrating the birthday today of one of the best at turning art into business, Andy Warhol.

It was, after all, Warhol who famously said “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

Warhol truly was one of those “only in America” stories.

A visionary artist, Warhol gained fame by depicting our ordinary world as art. With paintings like his legendary Campbell’s Soup Cans and the Marilyn Diptych, he took objects and people that were familiar and made them appear extraordinary. It was a trick he first perfected on himself, clawing his way up from ordinary beginnings to become one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th Century.

I have always felt a great affinity for Warhol. We both came from working class families and attended public schools. And while I am nowhere near the artist he was, I find myself inspired by his journey from ordinary obscurity to becoming one of the greatest American innovators in the art world.

Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1928, the second son of Slovakian immigrants and blue-collar workers, whose first child died before they came to the U.S. At the age of eight, Warhol was bedridden for months with a rare neurological disease called corea. His mother, a skilled artist who worked as an embroiderer, gave him drawing lessons. It would be his first art instruction — but not his last. Warhol took free art classes at the Carnegie Institute while attending public school in Pittsburgh.

Warhol’s father, who worked in a coal mine, also encouraged his artistic ambitions. He decreed in his will that his savings should go to Andy upon his death to be used in his art education. He passed when Andy was 14, and his savings went to sending Andy to Carnegie Mellon University for a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art.

Like Andy Warhol, I, too, was born and raised in the blue-collar world. I was raised by a single mother, with help from my grandmother and grandfather, who was an auto worker. Like Warhol, I took advantage of every opportunity to better myself and accomplish my goals of becoming an entrepreneur and leader. And, like Warhol, I took advantage of every opportunity afforded me to achieve my dreams.

America is the greatest country in the world for opening doors to ordinary people. There’s a reason why families like the Warhols come here, and it is because no other country in the world inspires greatness and offers the opportunity to innovate that America does.

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon, Warhol went to New York City, where he soon became one of the most successful commercial artists of the 1950s. His success working in magazines led him to focus on his own paintings, and in 1964, he opened “The Factory,” the studio where he gathered artists and eccentrics from all over to create one of the most vibrant cultural scenes in New York.

Warhol, like the Campbell’s soup cans, started out ordinary, but became larger-than-life. His work is credited with starting the pop art movement. The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is the largest museum in the U.S. dedicated to a single artist. And his paintings — including many of famous celebrities like Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali, Marlon Brando, and Elizabeth Taylor — have been among the highest-selling of all time.

Andy Warhol, who died in 1987, would have been 92 today. His life inspired countless others to strive for greatness — including me. Happy birthday, Andy.

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