Chetna Prakash

Is talk cheap? The aphorisms of Warhol and Weiwei

Image: Ted Alcorn/ Never Sorry LLC

Approx Reading Time-11Do Warhol and Weiwei’s pithy one-liners further their art, or detract from it? – Chetna Prakash


I had an odd thought as I was walking home after viewing the Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei exhibition for the first time last December. The massive exhibition brings together nearly 300 works of art by the two artists, including paintings, photographs, prints, sculptures, films, documentaries and music, to name a few.

As I walked, I suddenly wondered if I too was an artist? I had never thought of myself as an artist. I write. I usually write blogs about art created by “real” artists, but what if my writing was a form of sculpture? After all, it involves expressing an idea. It is about evoking an emotion. It involves many tricky decisions towards those two ends. What words to use? How many? Should I keep this sentence to one word? Or do I let it flow and flow? Both will evoke a different response in the audience. One will stop them short and make them think. The other will carry them along on a journey. Each decision makes my writing a unique piece of work because no two writers will ever discuss the same idea in exactly the same words.

Hallelujah! I, too, was a sculptor. I make word sculptures.

This led me to my second discovery. Both Weiwei and Warhol were incessant word sculptors too and their word art belongs to us all. Both have/had a terrible desire to express their thoughts. Warhol did it by producing his own magazine and writing books sharing his funny, odd, pithy and always ironic thoughts on life and people and art and spaces. Weiwei does the same through his blogs (now shut down by the Chinese government), his Twitter feeds and numerous interviews. In fact, a book called Weiwei-isms brings together some of Weiwei’s most provocative and heartfelt thoughts on himself, art, politics, China, technology and more.

In this article, I share some of the word art by the two artists that will make you laugh, cry, wonder, ponder and more.

An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have, but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them. – Andy Warhol

I think art can change the world. If anything can change the world, it is art. – Ai Weiwei

Being good in business is the best kind of art. Making money is art and good business is the best art. –  Andy Warhol

Very few people know why art sells so high. I don’t even know. – Ai Weiwei

I think my stance and my way of life is my most important art. –  Ai Weiwei

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. – Andy Warhol

It is absurd that so much money has been wasted on manipulating public opinion, on simulating emotion. This nation is notorious for its ability to make or fake anything cheaply. “Made-in-China” goods now fill homes around the world. But our giant country has a small problem. We can’t manufacture the happiness of our people. – Ai Weiwei

Measuring national prestige by gold medals is like using Viagra to judge the potency of man. – Ai Weiwei

Cities really are mental conditions. Beijing is a nightmare. A constant nightmare. – Ai Weiwei

My ideal city would one long Main Street with no cross streets or side streets to jam up traffic. Just one long one-way street. – Andy Warhol

In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. – Andy Warhol

If Shakespeare were alive today, he might be writing on Twitter. – Ai Weiwei

My fascination with letting images repeat and repeat – or in film’s case “run on” – manifests my belief that we spend much of our lives seeing without observing. – Andy Warhol

To express yourself needs a reason, but expressing yourself is the reason. – Ai Weiwei

Overturning police cars is a super intense workout. It’s probably the only sport I enjoy. – Ai Weiwei

I have Social Disease. I have to go out every night. If I stay home one night I start spreading rumors to my dogs. – Andy Warhol

Chairman Mao was the first in the world to use Twitter. All his quotations are within 140 words. – Ai Weiwei

It is really life and death . When they tell you that your mother is 80 years old and you will never see them again, you can never call it performance art. – Ai Weiwei

Since I was shot, everything is such a dream to me. Like I don’t know whether I’m alive or whether I died. I wasn’t afraid before. And having been dead once, I shouldn’t feel fear. But I am afraid. I don’t understand why. – Andy Warhol

I spend very little time just doing “art as art.” –  Ai Weiwei

 And finally, my favourite saying of them all…

Art is what you can get away with. – Andy Warhol



You can view the works of the two artist at the “Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei” exhibition currently at the National Gallery of Victoria. The books Weiwei-isms and The Philosophy of Andy Warhol are also available for buying at the NGV store.


Chetna Prakash

Chetna Prakash is a Melbourne-based freelancer. With her passport showing residencies to Zambia, India, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, UK and now Australia, she confidently lays claim to the term “global citizen”. Her favorite pastime is to look at artworks and will them to say something to her. You can read her blog at Chatnoir: A Mumbaikar in Melbourne or find her on twitter @Mumbai2Melby

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