Many business books advise that you study the most successful people that you wish to emulate in some way. You read their books to figure out what their mindset was like. According to the great heroes that I have read, you should study success if you want to be successful. If you want to make money, you should study and read the books of people who have made A LOT of it.
In this article, I want to use Napoleon Hill’s book, The Law of Success and apply the laws of success to Andy Warhol. I have studied Warhol for a few months now, reading his diaries and his Philosophy book and I’m just fascinated with the way that he was able to become successful with his artwork.
But still, you’re probably wondering why am I even bringing up Napoleon Hill and the laws of success. What’s the connection, you might be asking yourself.
Napoleon Hill’s Laws of Success
For one thing, The Law of Success is one of the most famous books of all time on how to be successful in life, not just monetarily, but also just generally in terms of accomplishing things and getting things done. And it’s been read by millions around the world. It’s almost a century old. And it is considered one of the all-time classics of American literature on success and money-making.
The 15 laws of success according to Napoleon Hill are as follows: definite purpose, self-confidence, the habit of saving, initiative and leadership, imagination, enthusiasm, self-control, doing more than paid for, pleasing personality, accurate thinking, concentration, cooperation, failure, tolerance, and the golden rule. These are the 15 laws that one must abide by, habits of mind you might say, in order to achieve maximum productivity and get the most out of life in whatever endeavors you choose to do.
Practical Usage of these Laws to Warhol’s Life
I think applying these laws to Warhol’s life will really help to highlight and emphasize just how important these rules really are, how timeless and evergreen they are, and how they serve in just about any field of endeavor, including something as seemingly arbitrary and subjective as painting. So without further ado, let’s get into the main part of the post.
✨ Definite Purpose
Warhol did have a definite purpose, which is the first law. He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to be an artist and that was what he was going to do. He always did it professionally working for others and then when he became a freelancing entrepreneur and independent artist, he did it for himself and got paid.
But there was never any deviation or a radical departure or deviation from what he wanted to do which was always to paint and do the artwork. So, he had a definite purpose and he knew he wanted to take those skills to another level and grow them as he moved on in life and met new people.
Self-confidence is another law of success, and Warhol was very self-confident. He had a healthy self-image. He knew that he was good. I mean, he certainly made references to the fact that he wasn’t so super unique that nobody could replicate his success the way he did it but he certainly felt that he was valuable enough that he could sell his paintings for thousands of dollars, even millions of dollars, and the more that happened the more he got excited and felt that he could do even more than that.
So, his whole life was just one of increasing and accelerating the amount of money that came into his bank account. And he knew that he could do it, and he did do it, and there was nothing that ever stopped him. He never stayed home because he had no self-esteem and didn’t feel like he was worthy of the world. He got out, and he pedaled, and he knocked on doors, and he eventually was able to become a successful painter.
The next law of success is initiative, and Warhol definitely had initiative. He wrote books. He did films. He made paintings. He conducted interviews for Interview magazine. As far as we know, he sold space ads for people. He was a model on a runway. He was in sitcoms. I mean, it is just unheard of in this day and age how productive Andy Warhol was in his time. Most people can’t even imagine that level of productivity. I mean, many people find themselves caught up doing things that don’t really lead to the bottom line. But Andy Warhol knew what led to the bottom line and he stuck to doing those things in multiple different mediums and platforms.
So, there’s no doubt that Warhol took initiative, and he even makes reference to his assistant, Sam, in his diaries when he talks about how Sam “wants to be wanted, but doesn’t realize that if he works, he will be wanted.” Warhol knew that if you worked, you would be wanted. If you produced, you would find somebody who would take it. He knew it. He knew it was a numbers game and he knew he had to produce. He needs to have something objectively to sell and he believed in his artwork enough that he could sell it. And part of being able to sell something is having confidence in what you’re selling and a belief in its value, its worth, and its superiority—a genuine belief that you’re giving to the world.
He also had leadership, as well, and that’s the next law of success. He was definitely a leader. He ran the studio making sure that he had assistants helping him with the paintings, helping him drive to different parties. He also provided for direction in the way of his own artistic sensibilities. He was able to decide and determine the topics of the different art projects that he was going to do and he followed his interests. And there was no one who could take a better leadership position than Warhol himself, possibly with the exception of Fred Hughes, but for the most part, Warhol was the leader of his own life.
He took command in the reins of his own life and for the most part did what he wanted to do, even at the objections of some of the people that he worked with. This especially indicated in the A Day in the Life of Andy Warhol documentary of Warhol on YouTube where Joseph Freeman, one of his assistants in the 60s, basically states that people would have died for him. If this isn’t considered a leadership role, then I don’t know what is.
Imagination is the next law. Well, you can’t really debate this one. Warhol was an artist and a painter and all of his paintings at the end of the day where his own idea and imagination. From the colors, he chose to the way that he decided to paint them, and all the different objects he decided to replicate and color in. Of course, there was some commissioned work from celebrities, but he chose the photos he was going to silkscreen and paint, and ultimately he chose the clients he was going to take on, even with Fred negotiating all of the time. So this also spoke to his imagination.
Even some of his business ideas that are stated in the diaries also speak to this level of imagination. For instance, he had the idea of doing a movie where all of the actors were extraordinarily good looking. This was one of his ideas and he had several others that people kind of thought of in jest. For example, he thought about Jogging! the Musical. There are other ideas in his diaries that he kind of throws out to Pat Hackett, his editor, and it just speaks to his level of imagination and creativity.
The next law is enthusiasm. This is slightly debatable because of just the way he presented himself in the public, in interviews, and on television. However, in his art and productivity, he was very enthusiastic. There were times, in fact, when he was very adamant about doing certain projects, certain objects, and he was also very strict at times about the colors that he used for his paintings. When one of his assistants mismatched the colors or chose a different color, he would get very angry at this.
This is, of course, the side of Andy Warhol that no one ever saw in public because that’s not how he chose to present himself. He chose to present himself as someone who was sort of aloof and kind of disconnected at times and not really that interested in the kind of drama of daily life. But behind the scenes, he certainly could have a fiery temper if what he says in The Diaries is true and that he did, in fact, “scream” at his assistants.
So, the other law of success is self-control, and Warhol had self-control. He never did drugs. Never got tied down by a relationship. He went to parties when he wanted to and he didn’t go to parties when he didn’t want to. And for the most part, he stuck to the straight and narrow path of becoming the successful artist that he wanted to become. It takes a lot of work, and I speak from experience as an artist.
It just takes a lot of energy and effort to keep creating day after day and to reach the peak productivity levels of Andy Warhol. It really is. It’s unimaginable. Most people can’t even fathom it, and it’s really a shame because I wish I could be in the bodies of all of these really incredibly successful people and just to really embody the experience of what it really is like to be incredibly maximally productive with your time and your efforts.
And Warhol was absolutely productive, absolutely focused on what he was going to do, and he never got sidetracked really from any side problems that tend to trap other people in life such as being in relationships. That’s kind of a big one because the media makes you think that you need to have a partner at all times, that you’re incomplete without a partner. So, you can just imagine, in the seventies when that was even a bigger “thing,” just how much it impacted the general population. But not Warhol.
✨ Doing More Than Paid For
The next law is doing more than paid for. This is again an arguable law that could be applied to Andy but you could argue that he did more than he was paid for just by the level of work he gave to others and the number of revisions he gave the painting series that he was commissioned to do. Many times he wasn’t even paid for some of the work he did such as the album cover from The Velvet Underground, which they never paid him for.
And he did many paintings that were just never even purchased directly and we’re just given away outright. And even at his first job where he was designing and drawing shoes, he knew how much he was going to get paid by the number of shoes he did. No benefits, health insurance, and other fringe benefits, so to speak. Just a shoe drawing and a payment. So, it wasn’t like he was getting an exorbitant amount of money there and he was giving probably maximum value from doing that. This is a speculator however and we should probably take what he says in Philosophy with a grain of salt.
So this is probably one of the laws of success that is kind of a hard connection to make to Warhol’s life because there’s just not that much information and evidence of it. But I mean, if you look at the volume of his art that he created over the vast span of his entire life then you can probably say with certainty that he certainly gave all of himself to people, generally, rather than working for an employer.
✨ Pleasing Personality
The next law is pleasing personality. Again, another debatable one, but many people did find him very funny in real life. They found him really enjoyable, otherwise, they wouldn’t have gravitated toward him. And they found him kind of satirical at times and kind of witty, as well. Maybe not witty in the sense that you come up with the right line and respond right away, but they found that he had really interesting observations about other people, and they always wanted to consult him about what he thought about the media and about popular celebrities of the time.
So, although he wasn’t a radiant personality, per se, the kind that you think of as being a showman like a Barnum, he still had people gravitating toward him like he was a magnet. Admittedly, this is a kind of subjective application of the law to Warhol and a sort of loose interpretation, especially since I wasn’t in his life, but there were certainly many people who were on his side and enjoyed his company if any of his books are an indicator of this.
✨ Habit of Saving
The next law is the habit of saving. Warhol was very concerned about money but he also was able to reinvest a lot of his capital into different apartments and different studios. He owned an apartment in Montauk and he also was able to repurchase some of his art and sell at a higher price. So you could argue that he did have a habit of saving.
The other interesting note is that he keeps track of all of his expenses in the diaries and every few sentences he’ll put in parentheses the amount of money it costs, but in reading this 800-page tome to Warhol’s last 10 years of his life, I realize he really didn’t spend lavishly or luxuriously at all. He keeps track of cab ride expenses, limousine expenses, dinners, and gifts for people.
You’ll never see expenses for something as lavish as buying a yacht, let’s say, or buying a mansion or buying a stretch limousine. You never really seem like any kind of evidence of him buying like an affluent, rich tycoon, even if he was bringing in millions. You only see cab ride expenses, telephone expenses, and also the purchase of magazines and newspapers. All of this from The Diaries.
✨ Accurate Thinking
The next law is accurate thinking. I think this is another one that you would have a hard time debating because I think for most people, Warhol’s keen insight on human affairs and on celebrity and commercialism were hard to beat. His insight is very poignant and very crisp and clear, and they speak to his level of understanding humanity more than humanity understood itself at the time, which is kind of eerie a little bit if you think about it.
For example, he intuitively knew people were in their own worlds. Apparently, no one told him this. No one told him that people had their own imaginations. He also intuitively understood that the direct sale of a product to somebody else was nearly impossible. And many times, he speaks of people in his diaries as if they were kind of like specimens that he was observing from a distance.
Almost like he was an alien come down from a different planet to observe the odd behaviors and mannerisms of human people and he speaks like that for a while, noting the way that people kind of are just in their own worlds and kind of taken with all these different problems that don’t mean anything in the end. And just his ability to completely detach from whatever everybody else was doing and just maintain his own journey really just speaks to a certain level of accurate thinking where most people would get hoodwinked, sidetracked and get bothered by other people’s problems, other issues, and political issues. Not Warhol.
This is also hard to debate because he had a whole fleet of people working for him in his studios and he had Fred Hughes, his promoter, but also his assistant, Victor, to help him come up with ideas. He had people helping him with some paintings, some of whom actually contributed to the paintings, such as Girard Malanga who has stated in interviews that he actually did some of the paintings. He also had many friends in high social circles who were able to commission him for different art projects, as well, and to also give him ideas.
And many of the parties where he was mingling there was always a back and forth and an exchange of ideas to help Warhol increase his popularity and his ultimate empire, which would eventually become worth millions, even today. So, to get to the level of success of Warhol, it seems to me from my observations of reading of business books and his life story that you need to be able to work well with others to get where you want to go, assuming you’re around people who help you increase your wealth and not take it away.
Interestingly enough, Napoleon Hill states that one must have a certain number of failures in life to become a success. It’s almost inevitable if you’re a person of action. It comes with being alive. You can’t help but fail. Napoleon Hill recounts his many failures, many of which involved lawsuits and prison time. But he notes that each failure served as a very valuable lesson in forgiveness, both to himself and other people. Every failure, he says, is a valuable lesson for you if you take the time to consider it.
Warhol had many failures. Some of his portraits were unpopular. People gossiped about him in books and spread lies in books to capitalize on his meteoric rise to success. Even when he was commissioned to do a portrait of Dolly Parton, that money was eventually returned because the portrait wasn’t appreciated. And yet, there is evidence that Warhol took each of his failures and tried to learn from them.
In the Dolly fiasco, for example, he vowed to be more communicative with his clients and to show them every step of the process before actually “delivering” the work. It can be said that Warhol took the time to learn about his failures and figure out where he could have done better. Taking your failures and turning them into valuable and profitable lessons is, according to Napoleon Hill, a mark of success, and Warhol certainly had this quality down pat.
This, I would probably venture to say he did not have as much of because as I said before he doesn’t really travel around the public much in his life, at least in the last 10 years that he was working. He only really hung out with famous people and celebrities for the last 10 years of his life. People of distinction and who were known for their accomplishments; in other words, “somebodies.”
There’s some evidence that he recruited some people that he didn’t know to help him with his work certainly earlier in his career when he had less leverage. Earlier, he probably would’ve been more willing to speak to the general public but toward the expansion of his empire and his success, he was more inclined to stay with people who were getting things done, who were productive, who were becoming famous for something, and he used that as increased leverage and amplification in his business.
Do Unto Others as You Would Do Unto Yourself (The Golden Rule)
The final law is the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would do unto yourself. Treat others the way you wanted to be treated. Interestingly enough, Napoleon Hill also counts mere “thoughts,” as the Golden Rule. So only think good thoughts is the mandate, according to Napoleon Hill’s interpretation of this law.
And well, this is hard to argue and hard to support too because Warhol probably was mostly on his own for the earlier part of his career, but he certainly achieved a level of success where he was able to command a certain aura, mystique, and organized effort toward bringing his enterprise to something that became worth millions of dollars.
He had a lot of help in his studios. He had a lot of assistants. He had a lot of people calling him and asking him where he was and whether he was going to a certain party. He had people inviting him to parties. This speaks to his level of connectivity with other people.
I do think, like Anneli Rufus says in Party of One, which was originally stated in Philosophy, that Warhol was, to a certain extent, a loner but at the same time he had to command allies. He had to, in order to survive and prosper.
He had to build a network for himself to be able to increase the value of what he was doing. Part of this certainly has to speak to his ability to persuade other people or to convince them or to treat them in a way that they would feel motivated and compelled to help Andy with his own efforts.
Which of course certainly commands a certain level of the Golden Rule, if it can be said that there are in fact levels. But let’s be clear that Warhol was a complicated person, complex, and oftentimes hard to decipher. Even he couldn’t decipher himself at times. So it stands to reason that possibly he applied this law at certain points in his life.
One of the most important qualities that Warhol had was his definite chief purpose. He knew what he was. He knew the gifts that he could give to the planet, and he focused on it. And that made all the other pieces really fall in place for him in his life.
Certainly, there is a little bit of luck involved in business, art, and commerce. You can’t argue with that. But he was so productive and such an active participant in the art scene that he created his own luck. He created the environment in which luck would eventually find him. That’s productivity. So, it’s never really lucked, anyway. It’s that you put yourself in a number of different positions where eventually you’ll find yourself feeling lucky or getting lucky but when in reality, you’ve created enough of a ripple in the world that luck will eventually come back to you.
And so, I would argue that Warhol’s productivity, his laser-like focus on his work, his definite sense of who he was, and his confidence with who he was, was really one of the hallmarks of his ability to capitalize on these other principles that Napoleon Hill espouses. There is certainly a lot of overlap with the laws of success and the way Andy Warhol managed his life, and it serves as a very rare and really interesting lesson for those of us, including myself, who want to increase our success in both our personal and professional lives.
Todd Persaud holds a BFA from New School University and an MA in Applied Sociology from William Paterson University. He has taught in over 5 countries and currently resides in Da Nang, Vietnam, where he is writing a book about his experiences.