I'll Be Your Mirror

The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews


By Kenneth Goldsmith

Preface by Wayne Kostenbaum

Introduction by Reva Wolf

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The Question-and-Answer interview was one of Andy Warhol’s favorite communication vehicles, so much so that he named his own magazine after the form. Yet, never before has anyone published a collection of interviews that Warhol himself gave. I’ll Be Your Mirror contains more then thirty conversations revealing this unique and important artist. Each piece presents a different facet of the Sphinx-like Warhol’s ever-evolving personality. Writer Kenneth Goldsmith provides context and provenance for each selection. Beginning in 1962 with a notorious interview in which Warhol literally begs the interviewer to put words into his mouth, the book covers Warhol’s most important artistic period during the ’60s. As Warhol shifts to filmmaking in the ’70s, this collection explores his emergence as socialite, scene-maker, and trendsetter; his influential Interview magazine; and the Studio 54 scene. In the 80s, his support of young artists like Jean-Michel Basquait, his perspective on art history and the growing relationship to technology in his work are shown. Finally, his return to religious imagery and spirituality are available in an interview conducted just months before his death. Including photographs and previous unpublished interviews, this collage of Warhol showcases the artist’s ability to manipulate, captivate, and enrich American culture.




The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews


Edited by


Introduction by


Afterword by



JORDAN CRANDALL: Do you look at yourself in the mirror?

ANDY WARHOL: No. It’s too hard to look in the mirror. Nothing’s there.

Introduction Through the Looking-Glass


Can an interview be a work of art? This is one of the many questions Andy Warhol posed for us in the hundreds of interviews in which he was a participant–interviews in which he was sometimes the interviewee, sometimes the interviewer, and sometimes played both roles at once. He posed this question by refusing, in the cleverest ways imaginable, to take interview questions seriously. It is as though the less serious his answers or his questions were, the more serious the ideas left behind for posterity to sort out; and, the more evasive his utterances, the more profound their implications. An answer such as “I don’t know,” to take a conspicuous example, came to have the tenor of a zany philosophical meditation. Just look at the following collection of questions and answers, excerpted from interviews conducted with Warhol over a period of some fifteen years:

What is Pop Art trying to say?
I don’t know.

How did you get started making movies?
Uh . . . I don’t know. . . .

What do you believe in?
Andy Warhol put his fingers in front of his mouth in a characteristic gesture. It was as though he wanted to stuff the words back in as they came out. “I don’t know,” he said. “Every day’s a new day.”

What is your role, your function, in directing a Warhol film?
I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out. (1969)4

But why Elvis Presley, I mean why did you suddenly pick on poor Elvis to do the silkscreens of?
I’m trying to think. I don’t know.

What does life mean to you?
I don’t know. I wish I knew.

Such a sequence of questions and answers raises the sorts of unanswerable questions that to greater and lesser degrees we all bump into, grapple with, try to ignore, and otherwise contend with as we maneuver through life. Why, even now as I write this essay, I wonder: do I really know what I want to say? do I know my “role” or “function,” or my intentions? and, by extension, do I know what life means to me? These questions of existence are so fundamental–newly reinvented for each generation–that they can be embarrassing to articulate. What is extraordinary about how Warhol asked them is that he found a way to get around this embarrassment through the use of evasion–and, more precisely, through the particular forms, nuances, and textures of evasion that he created.

Through his masterful use of evasion, Warhol also elicited all kinds of questions about the interview itself. What is the appeal of both published and broadcast interviews, and why have they become so extraordinarily ubiquitous in the past fifty years? How do interviews with artists affect our understanding of an artist’s work? What do we make of the fact that most interviews are edited in one way or another, but have the look of verbatim transcriptions? Are there formulas and traditions specific to the interview? What is the history of interviews with visual artists, and how does this history connect with the histories of interviews with literary figures, politicians, or entertainers?

The Interview and Art History: Formulas and Traditions Exposed

If Warhol avoided answering a question in a direct way, there was a good chance it had to do with the formulaic, or canned, nature of that question. What Warhol accomplished through avoidance was more important than answering the question: he exposed its predictability (even though he sometimes invented his own formulas in the process). One of the most predictable types of question in interviews with visual artists concerns what they think of their predecessors.7 (An entire book of interviews appeared recently that is devoted to this very question.8) Behind this question is the issue of influence–of artistic genealogy–a standard topic of art-historical discourse.

A veritable genre of interviewing that became popular in the 1970s consisted of an art critic asking each of a handful of artists her or his thoughts about the same art-world luminary; all the responses were then published together as a collection. For example, Jeanne Siegel polled eleven artists–Warhol among them–about the abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman on the occasion of a large retrospective exhibition of Newman’s work held in 1971 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The artists dutifully spoke about what they perceived to be the significance of Newman’s work. Warhol spoke about the art, too, making light of Newman’s reductive abstract compositions of vertical lines. However, what seemed to really grip him was Newman’s social life, about which he said:

The only way I knew Barney was I think Barney went to more parties than I did. I just don’t know how he got around–I mean he’d go off to the next party. And it’s just so unbelievable; why I just think he’s at another party. Don’t you think he’s just at another party? Maybe he didn’t have to work a lot if he just painted one line, so he had time for parties.9

In this passage, to the extent that there is discussion about art, it is covered over by what appears to be banal chitchat about parties.10 Still, under this cloak of banality, Warhol loosely concealed a surprising poignancy, which is exposed once we realize that Newman had died in 1970, not long before this interview occurred. At this point, it becomes clear that being “at another party” was Warhol’s idea of Newman’s afterlife, and that there was a pathos in his words. It is a pathos achieved as if by magic: in one moment the cloak has nothing under it; in the next, it bulks up with emotion. What is communicated in the end is that it’s neither the art nor the parties, but mortality itself that really matters.

Nearly ten years after the interview about Newman, Warhol contributed his remarks to another, similar, collection of interviews, this time about none other than Pablo Picasso. Like the Newman compendium, this one was prompted by a major retrospective of the artist’s work at the Museum of Modern Art, for which occasion art critic Judd Tully asked twelve artists for their estimations of Picasso’s significance. The replies he received were, by and large, what we might have expected to hear, and tended to reflect what were by then commonly held views. Let’s look at a few examples. Paul Jenkins was of the opinion that “the dominant feature of his work is the distortion of the classical which eventually became the classical itself.” Romare Bearden explained that Picasso “remained a very Spanish painter.” And Roy Lichtenstein said “I think of Picasso as the most important artist of the twentieth century.”11 Warhol, avoiding such weighty art-historical pronouncements, offered this observation:

Ah, the only thing I can really relate to is his daughter Paloma. She’s wonderful. Do you know her at all? She comes to town. You should maybe interview her sometime. She comes here every other week. I’m just glad he had a wonderful daughter like Paloma.12

Warhol, in fact, did often socialize with Paloma Picasso in the late 1970s and early 1980s (and he had actually worked on an interview with her).13 It is also true, however, that from the outset of his painting career he had paid careful attention to Picasso’s art, prolific output, and reputation.14 His choice to talk about Paloma when the topic at hand was really her father trivializes the entire discussion of Pablo Picasso’s artistic merit. Yet Warhol used his typically atypical response here, as elsewhere, to avert the risk of sounding pompous. As if by some sleight of hand, his reply actually sounds fresh and original, while by comparison the serious, straightforward responses given by his colleagues end up sounding trite and cliché!

The apparent banality of Warhol’s comments tended to intensify when he disliked, or felt uncomfortable with, the interviewer. When, in a 1971 documentary film, art critic Barbara Rose asked him what he thought of the artist Jasper Johns (whose work is often noted as a strong early influence on Warhol), he responded with a simple and characteristic “I think he’s great.” When pressed to say why, Warhol explained: “Ohhh, uh, he makes such great lunches. He does this great thing with chicken. He puts parsley inside the chicken.”15 While it very well may have been true that Johns was a terrific cook, Warhol’s description of his chicken recipe was, needless to say, not the kind of information Rose was seeking, and was clearly meant to rile her.16 At the same time, it is likely that Warhol here found a way to “out” Johns by focusing on a stereotypically female activity. (Johns, as Warhol was aware, preferred to keep his sexual preferences private.17) And so Warhol’s words now became a form of exposure, while also being a means of avoiding the lackluster, commonplace pronouncements about artistic influence that are the bread and butter of art history and of interviews with artists.

The Interview as Collaboration

We see from the example of the Barbara Rose interview how Warhol’s feelings toward the interviewer affected how he responded to her questions. If his responses in this case reflected a dislike for the interviewer, on other occasions, by contrast, they reflected instead what appeared to be an attraction to the interviewer. The ensuing flirtation was yet another way Warhol directed the conversation away from his art. Asked in 1966 how much time he spent on his paintings, Warhol replied: “No time . . . what color are your eyes?”18 Sometimes this “personal” approach to the interview went much further–and was much funnier–as in an interview with art critic Paul Taylor that occurred toward the end of Warhol’s life (and was published posthumously). Let’s listen in:

AW: You looked great the other night. I took lots of photos of you in your new jacket. . . . Next time you come by, I’ll take some close-ups.

PT: For the Upfront section of Interview [Warhol’s magazine] perhaps? Except that Ym not accomplished enough.

AW: You could sleep with the publisher.19

This tongue-in-cheek flirtation developed out of a previous interaction between Taylor and Warhol, and because, in this instance, the interviewer played along with, rather than resisted, Warhol’s game rules. Here, as well as in numerous other interviews, Warhol wanted us to see some of the ordinarily concealed information about the making of the interview. In the process, he called special attention to the collaborative quality of all interviews, a quality nicely summarized in a 1969 study of the rhetoric of interviews: “Any statement in an interview is . . . the collaborative product of interviewer and interviewee, not a spontaneous remark. . . . The interview is a rhetorical form whose most essential quality is its collaborative origin.”20 Collaborative by definition, the interview was perfectly suited to Warhol, whose work in other areas–whether in film, painting, or writing–also involved collaboration in some measure.

How interviewers worked their side of the collaboration was no less revealing or intriguing than Warhol’s operating methods on his side of it. These operating methods invited the more imaginative of interviewers to exercise a degree of creativity not usually found in interviews with artists. When in the mid-1970s the French art historian Jean-Claude Lebensztejn probed eight artists about the meaning of Henri Matisse’s work, he failed to get the direct answers from Warhol (as you will already have guessed) that were provided by the other artists he communicated with (Lichtenstein, Sharits, Wesselmann, Andre, Stella, Marden, and Judd). So he intellectually and visually bracketed Warhol’s response: at one end, he put a passage about Matisse that he had found in a book on Warhol; on the other end, as the conclusion to the entire collection of interviews, he put a statement by Matisse that served to ingeniously complement and compliment Warhol’s own limited commentary, as well as to complement the passage from the book. Here is what the whole thing looks like:

A friend once asked Andy Warhol what he really wanted out of life, and he replied, “I want to be like Matisse.”

(Quoted from Calvin Tomkins, “Raggedy Andy,” in John Coplans’s Andy Warhol, New York, New York Graphic, 1971.)

Warhol: “What can we say about Matisse, Fred? Couple of lines. . . .”

“He who wants to dedicate himself to painting should start by cutting out his tongue.”

–Henri Matisse21

Lebensztejn’s way of giving meaning to Warhol’s words involved a breaking out of the question–and–answer mold in which the interview by definition is usually cast.

History: Role Reversals, Hollywood, Radio, and the Art Press

Warhol’s own inventiveness in interviews tended to stay within that mold, but hinted at how it was just a mold, and therefore gave someone like Lebensztejn license to break it. With his seemingly banal answers, Warhol constructed this space for the creativity of the interviewer. He further encouraged such creativity through reversing and otherwise confusing the roles of interviewer and interviewee. He had already introduced this approach in his first known published interview, of 1962, which appeared in a then–new (but now–defunct) magazine called Art Voices. By way of introducing this interview (which is reprinted in the present volume), the magazine’s editors informed us that they told Warhol: “let us interview you as a spokesman for Pop Art, and he said no, let me interview you.”22

Within only a few years, by the mid-1960s, Warhol had become notorious for asking interviewers to provide the answers to their own questions. In the 1965 book Pop Art, we learn that when a reporter questioned Warhol about his background, he proposed, in response, “Why don’t you make it up?”23 The following year, art critic Alan Solomon recounted his experience of trying to interview Warhol for television. “I’ll tell you what,” the artist proposed, “why don’t you give the answers too.” Solomon objected on the grounds that he did not know the answers. “That’s all right,” Warhol responded, “just tell me what to say.”24

A comment about interviewers in Warhol’s 1975 book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, provides one explanation for such behavior. “I’ve found that almost all interviews are preordained,” he explained. “They know what they want to write about you and they know what they think about you before they ever talk to you, so they’re just looking . . . to back up what they’ve already decided they’re going to say.”25 This is a common feeling of people who are interviewed with any regularity. Bob Dylan clearly shared it, and in some of his interviews of the 1960s he, like Warhol, repeated the interviewer’s questions (but with more of an edge) and otherwise prodded them to answer their own questions. An example:

REPORTER: Are you trying to accomplish anything?
BOB DYLAN: Am I trying to accomplish anything?
REPORTER: Are you trying to change the world or anything?
BOB DYLAN: Am I trying to change the world? Is that your question?
REPORTER: Well, do you have any idealism or anything?
BOB DYLAN: Am I trying to change the idealism of the world? Is that it?
REPORTER: Well, are you trying to push over idealism to the people?
BOB DYLAN: Well, what do you think my ideas are?26

Dylan, like Warhol before him, was resisting attempts to pigeonhole and to be pigeonholed. When interviewees try to resist such attempts in a more direct way, they risk sounding most unattractive, or even ridiculous. Witness Susan Sontag angrily telling one interviewer:

I’m going to get up and walk out of here if you keep on going like this. I don’t live the way your question seems to imply . . . don’t try to put words into my mouth, I don’t think this way. It would be trivial. It would be silly.27

By opting to appear trivial or silly, Warhol escaped such distastefully self-important language.

One model for Warhol’s deferral to the interviewer was the widespread practice, in the film industry, of the studio controlling what its movie stars said in interviews: the actors literally were told what to say.28 It’s highly likely that Warhol would have been familiar with such scripted interviews from childhood when he listened regularly to the radio, including such celebrity interview shows as Forty-Five Minutes in Hollywood and Hollywood in Person in the 1930s, and Breakfast at Sardi’s, Hollywood Startime, and Hedda Hopper’s five-minute interview shows in the 1940s. As an avid movie-star fan, he also would have seen such interviews on the pages of fan magazines such as Photoplay.

The Hollywood scripting of interviews was only marginally veiled, if at all; readers often knew exactly what they were getting, or at least that some degree of control over the interview had been exercised. Already in the 1930s this kind of star control was sufficiently familiar to be parodied. It was even parodied on the pages of an art periodical. A 1934 issue of the Art News featured a “special interview” with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, in which Minnie expressed concern that her publicity manager approve of the quality of this interview:

“You are sure,” she inquired anxiously, wiggling her high-heeled pump, “that the Art News is the type of paper that will give us a refined interview? Our publicity manager is extremely particular and I’m not really acquainted with your publication.”29

The history of the Hollywood interview is filled with allusions to its own artifice. The case of actor Victor Mature is but one conspicuous example. As the 1959 edition of Celebrity Register reported it, Mature,

. . . whose “hobby,” he once told Hedda Hopper, was “publicity,” was a hard man to know in any length of time, but not hard to know about. . . . He would turn to a reporter at the end of some wild yarn and say, “Now that’s absolutely off the record–when will it be published?”30

In the interview with the artist, as in the Hollywood celebrity interview, stock-in-trade inquiries about the interviewee’s life manifest a central purpose to reveal the person behind the work. It is that person we seek when we read or listen to an interview (but whom, so the rhetoric goes, we never quite seem able to grasp, as the just-quoted characterization suggests about Victor Mature). And so, early in the history of published interviews with artists (at least as that history unfolds in the Art News, a mainstay of the American art press), visual portraits accompanied the words, giving us a face to go with the “voice.”

By the early 1960s, when Warhol gave his first interviews, such portraits tended to be omitted, a shift in publication practice that reflects broader journalistic trends. Within the field of art criticism, formalist analysis, based on the belief that we should understand the art object by studying it alone, without drawing upon biographical or any other sort of information external to the art, came to exert a powerful influence in the 1950s and 1960s, as art historians have long recognized. With the same impulse to achieve objectivity, ideas concerning the role that journalists should play in interviews likewise changed markedly between the 1930s and the 1950s.

Interviews published in the Art News in the 1930s (including the 1934 interview with Mickey and Minnie Mouse) were articles rather than transcriptions of dialogues, including only an occasional quotation.31 Not until 1963 did this magazine, now recast as Artnews, utilize the full-fledged question-and-answer format that is so familiar to us today. As it happens, its debut occurred in a series of interviews with several artists, called “What Is Pop Art?” that included Warhol’s most famous interview (reprinted in the present volume).32 Artnews most likely modeled its new interview format on popular journalism–an apt choice for a sequence of interviews about the then-still-new art that was called pop.33

Another, and perhaps more significant, model for Artnews s innovative, objective-looking format came from more highbrow journalism, most notably Paris Review. From its inception in 1953, this journal established, as a regular feature, its highly influential question-and-answer format.34 (This same year also saw the debut of Edward R. Murrow’s television interview program, Person-to-Person, as radio broadcasting staples such as the celebrity interview migrated to the newer medium of television.) By the late 1950s, the Paris Review interviews started to be reprinted as book-length collections (as they still are today), thereby broadening their dissemination.

Malcolm Cowley observed, in the introduction to the first of these collections, published in 1958, “[t]he interviewers belong to a new generation that has been called ‘silent/ although a better word for it would be ‘waiting’ or listening’ or ‘inquiring.’ “35 The desire to repress the journalist’s voice is articulated elsewhere, too, during the second half of the 1950s. For example, in the foreword to Selden Rodman’s 1957 book, Conversations with Artists, we are told: “Rodman wisely keeps his own opinions down to a smooth purr throughout the book.”36 (It would seem interviewers were now modeling their practices after those of murmuring Freudian psychoanalysts, who were exerting a great influence at just this time.)

So, precisely when the idea of giving the interviewee more control over the content of interviews was embraced, and just as the seemingly objective question-and-answer format gained wide acceptance within the realm of serious journalism, Warhol, through his apparent evasiveness, showed that its claims to documentary objectivity were trickery. After all, interviews nearly always are rehearsed, edited, or otherwise manipulated, and are not the spontaneous conversations that the question-and-answer format would suggest.

The Realm of Ideas


On Sale
Apr 27, 2009
Page Count
320 pages
Da Capo Press

Kenneth Goldsmith

About the Author

Kenneth Goldsmith‘s writing has been called some of the most “exhaustive and beautiful collage work yet produced in poetry” by Publishers Weekly. The author of seven books and editor of the online journal UbuWeb, Goldsmith is also a music writer for New York Press and host of weekly radio show on New York City’s WFMU. He lives in New York City.

Wayne Koestenbaum is professor of english at CUNY’s Graduate School and is the author of several books of criticism, essays, and poetry. He lives in New York City.

Learn more about this author