Death and taxes are only a little more predictable than the art of Andy Warhol. Just one month after Warhol’s death in Manhattan at age 58 from a heart attack the morning of February 22, the day after otherwise successful gall bladder surgery, the artist was back in the news. Unlike the obits, the news wasn’t on the front page; like the obits, the artist was connected with celebrities. Warhol was listed in an indictment from a Federal grand jury in an alleged tax-fraud scheme by which investors were able to make false tax deductions. Warhol wrote off $599,819, which is more than Mr. and Mrs, Sidney Poitier ($500,757) and Lorne Greene and wife ($333,838), but less than Michael Landon ($1 million) and the Norman Lears ($1.5 million). “Can’t I deduct liquor if I have to get high to talk and talking’s my business?”—The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again.

Andy Warhol made his mark in the late 50’s as a commercial artist—Tiffany’s . . . Bonwitt Teller’s . . . Vogue . . . Glamour. He was discovered by Ivan Karp at the start of the 60’s. Karp told CBC Radio the day after Warhol’s death that the artist had peaked before the 60’s were over, a statement which leads only to questions about what the last 20 years have meant for Warhol’s career. And then the details of his will become known: $15 million in personal property, films. Interview (founded, according to Gerald Malanga, so Warhol could get free film festival tickets), real estate, etc. His death, naturally, has caused the value of his work to rise.

Pop Art in America—initially known as Neo-Dada, Commonism, OK Art, and Common Image Art—was, in large part, a reaction to Abstract Expressionism. While the Abstract Expressionists created highly subjective works informed by a private “philosophy,” the Pop Artists seized upon everyday images, from comic strip characters to the now-famous Gampbell’s soup can (Campbell Soup Company donated $2,000 in Warhol’s memory to the New York Academy of Art, a small token when you consider that reprints of his renderings of the cans would really take a bite out of the company’s media budget). Many of the Pop Artists, such as Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, like Warhol, had commercial art backgrounds. Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, the two most influential American precursors to Pop, did store window displays to make ends meet; now they are among the most wealthy living artists. But unlike Warhol, these artists went beyond the for-hire stage in attempting what we ordinarily call art.

Warhol wrote in his autobiographical “philosophy”:

I loved working when I worked at commercial art and they told you what to do and how to do it and all you had to do was correct it and they’d say yes or no. The hard thing is when you have to dream up tasteless things to do on your own.

Actually, Warhol never really had to decide on subjects for his painting or for the silkscreens which were executed by employees of The Factory. Early work—cows, crashes, flowers—resulted from recommendations by Karp, then-assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Henry Geldzahler, and “superstar” Ultra Violet. The celebrities Warhol painted, photographed, and was “seen with” were thrust upon him by the fact of their success. Marilyn, Liz, Jackie . . . then on to Liza, Mick Jagger, Jane Fonda, and the rest: all stars. He didn’t have to think. The later phase of Warhol’s career, when he was busy knocking around with his subjects, is promotion at its best. The artist and celebrities fed on one another: to be big was to be a subject for Warhol; to be a subject for Warhol was to be big. Magritte could have made something of this: art. Warhol made money.

Warhol’s name is sometimes associated with Picasso’s, but that is a mistake. Warhol and Salvador Dali are the two artists who will leave the most similar marks on the 20th century. (“My best days are those on which on awakening I earn $10,000 before breakfast by engraving a plate for my own enjoyment, and which end with a $50,000 check that I pocket without a murmur after a fine gourmet supper”—Dali in The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali.) Dali, best known as a Surrealist, boasted of his own craftsmanship, his mastery of academic technique. Yet one premise of Surrealism is that the artist delves deep into the psyche, but no matter how many watches melt, no matter how peculiarly littered the landscapes, Dali’s works are fundamentally superficial. To be sure, a fundamental ability, as there is in the work of Warhol. But in both cases, there is nothing below the sheen.

What is missing from Warhol and Dali is the conviction that art exists to express something, that it is more than technique. When the profit motive—legitimate as it is in art—becomes the end, then commerce is substituted for creation. To his credit, Warhol was perfectly candid: “I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist.” He did. And a Federal grand jury has put his life’s work in the proper perspective.