Who's soup can is it, after all?
February 8, 2010 1:06 PM   Subscribe

Who designed the Campbell's soup can label Warhol made himself famous with?

Did Warhol ever give due credit to such an excellent commercial designer? Did Warhol ever even try to find out who it was? And am I the only one who thinks Warhol was a thief and a phony for such shennanigans?
posted by tommyD to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
From Wikipedia...
In 1898, Herberton Williams, a Campbell's executive, convinced the company to adopt a cherry red and bright white color scheme, because he was taken by the crisp colors of the Cornell University football team's uniforms.[2] To this day, the layout of the can, with its red and white design and the metallic gold medal seal from the 1900 Paris Exhibition, has changed very little.

As for Warhol...I'm not sure what you mean by shennanigans. Are you suggesting Warhol claimed to design the label? Or do you not understand pop art?
posted by Thorzdad at 1:16 PM on February 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

How much of Warhol's work have you seen? Until I went to the exhibition of his work at the AGO a few years back, most of what I was familiar with was the same few works that show up in art textbooks and in the media, which seriously may have been selected for their simplicity - getting a chance to see a lot more of his stuff made me see how much more there was to him as an artist. I wouldn't say that he's a thief or phony, but that his work isn't well represented.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:22 PM on February 8, 2010

And am I the only one who thinks Warhol was a thief and a phony for such shennanigans?

Probably. The whole point of his work is appropriating such a recognizable commercial design. I don't think anyone mistook Warhol as the original designer, nor did they claim that Duchamp invented the urinal. Context, etc.
posted by Think_Long at 1:25 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Warhol worked as a commercial artist doing graphic design for advertising before he got famous. It'd probably be more accurate to say he was celebrating the work of the soup label's first designer. Lots of his work explored the links between repetition, ubiquity, and celebrity.
posted by Babblesort at 1:33 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: "Or do you not understand pop art?"
I'm guessing this is the likely answer.

And did you not understand my questions?

I'm no Warhol expert, but I have seen some of his other work. And I get it about the ubiquitous repetition, celebrity, popular culture and context and all. But Warhol seemed to appropraite a lot of other people's work without giving proper credit. That's what I mean by shennanigans. When songwriters do this, they usually include the original artists' name in the credits.

I'd heard Warhol did commerical work in his early career, so you'd think he'd appreciate the soup label design, and would want to celebrate the originator. But far as I know, he never did.

So does anyone know who deisgned the Campbell's Soup can label?
posted by tommyD at 2:00 PM on February 8, 2010

And am I the only one who thinks Warhol was a thief and a phony for such shennanigans?

"Warhol is an artist who often gets mentioned by painters wanting to make derivative works. Two things are worth noting before doing similar things: (1) On MOMA's website there's a indication of a license from Campbell's Soup Co. (2) Copyright enforcement seems to have been less of an issue in Warhol's day. Don't make copyright assumptions based on Warhol's work. Do your research and decide what your level of concern is about a possibly copyright violation case."
posted by ericb at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

And am I the only one who thinks Warhol was a thief and a phony for such shennanigans?

Pretty much, yeah.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:36 PM on February 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

You have four different questions here:

1. Who designed the Campbell's soup can label Warhol made himself famous with?

2. Did Warhol ever give due credit to such an excellent commercial designer?

3. Did Warhol ever even try to find out who it was?

4. And am I the only one who thinks Warhol was a thief and a phony for such shennanigans?

Questions #1-3 are pretty specific questions that can have concrete answers (even if no one in this thread winds up being able to say, definitively, whether Warhol ever tried to find out who the original designer was), while #4 -- assuming you asked it in good faith -- is a broader question about Warhol's work in general. So unless Question #4 was actually a thinly veiled WARHOL SUCKS AMIRITE statement that you expected everyone to automatically agree with, you can't really jump in and demand that people not argue with what reads like a wholesale dismissal of Warhol and/or pop art in general.

As to the label design, several sources -- as mentioned upthread -- indicate that Campbell's exec Herberton Williams convinced management to adopt the general color scheme. This citation indicates that the label itself was designed in-house. This presumably means that the actual design, layout, etc. was performed by a Campbell's staffer whose name was not recorded for posterity.

If you are genuinely interested in learning more about Warhol's work, there was a good article last month in The New Yorker (you'll have to register to get the full text).
posted by scody at 2:37 PM on February 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans
"Several stories mention that Warhol's choice of soup cans reflected his own avid devotion to Campbell's soup as a consumer. Robert Indiana once said: 'I knew Andy very well. The reason he painted soup cans is that he liked soup.'

...Warhol did not choose the cans because of business relationships with the Campbell Soup Company. Even though the company at the time sold four out of every five cans of prepared soup in the United States, Warhol preferred that the company not be involved 'because the whole point would be lost with any kind of commercial tie-in.' However, by 1965, the company knew him well enough that he was able to coax actual can labels from them to use as invitations for an exhibit. They even commissioned a canvas."
posted by ericb at 2:37 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I mean, most artist work with models, right? We don't give any credit to the farmer who piled up Monet's haystacks.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:37 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

And am I the only one who thinks Warhol was a thief and a phony for such shennanigans?


From the campbell's website: In 1896 the company built a large factory in Camden and expanded its product line to include prepared meats, sauces, canned fruits, ketchup, and plum pudding. The next year Arthur Dorrance hired his nephew John Thompson Dorrance, a chemical engineer and organic chemist. By 1899 John Dorrance had successfully developed a method of canning condensed soup. This innovation helped Campbell outstrip its two soup-canning competitors. While others were still shipping heavy, uncondensed soup, Campbell was able to ship and sell its product at one-third the cost. There were five original varieties: Tomato, Consommé, Vegetable, Chicken, and Oxtail. Around this same time, Campbell introduced its famous red-and-white label for its soups. As the company began increasing the variety of soups it offered, it began canning less produce, eventually leading, in 1905, to a change in company name to Joseph Campbell Company. John Dorrance became director of the company in 1900.

But no name for the designer, sorry.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:43 PM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: A lot of past and present corporate product and identity design is created by "in-house" graphic designers (as has been pointed out above). Sometimes outside designers are engaged as "work-for-hire." In these instances there is no expectation by an individual (or, a team) that their designs will be credited to them by name. Is suspect that's the case with the Campbell's Soup label.
posted by ericb at 2:51 PM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: Along the lines of ericb's answer, there may not be "a" definitive designer of the label. There is plenty of fantastic anonymous graphic work out there, that surfaced from last minute choices made around a copy desk, or by the hand of the typesetter who was given limited instructions and had to improvise. Much good work is simply refined or evolved versions of older work. Not everything has a recognized "author".

As for the thief/phony/shennanigans, yes, it's just you. The art in Warhol's work is just as much about the fact that he did it and how he did it as it is about what he did. You seem to be fixated on what he did, while ignoring the other, more important aspects. It's like when people say "I could do that" - they're missing the 99% inspiration that occurs before the 1% perspiration.
posted by gyusan at 3:52 PM on February 8, 2010

Regarding #4: There was just an article in the New Yorker from Jan 11, 2010 on Warhol & Pop Art that I found very interesting, not knowing much myself about Pop Art beyond soup cans & Marilyns. You might find it interesting as well (subscription required for full article).
posted by witchstone at 5:07 PM on February 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for answers and explanations. I guess the identiy of the soup can designer(s) is long lost.

And actually, I like Andy's soup can painting. I was blown away when I first saw it all those decades ago. He pulled something beautiful out of the invisible mundane, and showed us it was art. But he never seemed to care it was someone else's art, and that's always bugged me.

And my "is it just me?" question was real. It doesn't seem to bother anyone I've talked to about it, so maybe it is just me.
posted by tommyD at 6:14 PM on February 8, 2010

Yup, just you. The Duchamp/urinal analogy was apt: no one thinks Warhol/Duchamp claimed to originate the design of either piece. (Caveat: If Duchamp actually did design the Campbell's label...)

New question: Am I the only one who finds the Campbell's soup label the very opposite of great design? Red stripe over white with tiny gold circle between; bo-ring!
posted by IAmBroom at 8:32 PM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: - He said, 'All right, Give me a fabulous idea.' And so Muriel said, What do you like more than anything else in the world?' So Andy said, 'I don't know. What?' So she said, 'Money' ... And so Andy said, 'Oh, that's wonderful.' So then either that, or, she said, 'you've got to find something that's recognizable to almost everybody. Something you see everyday that everybody would recognize. Something like a can of Campbell's Soup.'
Mann recalled that Warhol actually said he didn't like Campbell's Soup - that his mother made it every day for lunch and "after all those years, it was like, 'Oh, Mom - again?'" As Mann remembered it, Latow asked Andy which flavour of soup he disliked the most and when Warhol responded "all of them," Latow suggested that he buy each flavour and paint them all.

Wikipedia: Dennis Hopper was the first of only a half dozen to pay $100 for a canvas.
posted by iviken at 5:06 AM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: So it wasn't even Warhol's idea! Thanks ivikin...
posted by tommyD at 10:01 AM on February 9, 2010

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