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The term "Pop Art" was coined by English art critic Lawrence Alloway in the late 1950s. He used it to describe what he viewed as a contemporary attitudinal shift in subject matter and techniques of art. Instead of rarefied content such as Bible stories, myths or legends that had traditionally been the subjects of Fine Art, Pop Art featured the increasing spread of corporate marketing through Western culture as inspiration to make commerce the subject of artistic scrutiny. In Pop Art, this type of subject matter was considered every bit as artistically worthy as the traditional subject matter of Fine Art.
The Pop Art Movement
Beginning in England in the mid-1950s and the United States in the early 1960s, Pop Art focused on everyday objects rendered through an adoption of commercial art techniques. In so doing, artists availed themselves of images and ideas culled from popular culture — such as movies, comic books, advertising and especially television — and faithfully reproduced in all their mass-produced glory. By making use of what had been dismissed as kitsch by the art establishment, Pop artists whose works were displayed in museums effectively thumbed their collective noses at the distinctions between highbrow art and lowbrow art.
Artists and Examples
Although Andy Warhol was not the first artist to mine advertising for art, he has remained the best-known practitioner of Pop Art. In paintings such as 200 Campbell's Soup Cans (1962) and Marilyn Monroe Diptych (1962), Warhol tried to elevate mechanical reproduction to Fine Art status, enraging some critics even as buyers eagerly bought up his work. Similarly, Roy Lichtenstein turned to the comic strips of his youth to inspire his garishly bright art that depicted sensational action or drama formed by the same kind of enlarged printer's dots that were used on cheap newsprint, and he reaped great success in the process.
Other artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Hamilton, formed collages out of pre-existing print images that took on added subtexts of ironic or sardonic meaning when assembled together. Muralist James Rosenquist created billboard-sized works that were crammed with consumer goods as a comment on media overload, and sculptor Claes Oldenburg sought to deprive everyday objects of their function, crafting soft vinyl toilets and humongous hot water bottles that would have no practical use.
Designed for the masses, Pop Art saw its design aesthetic dissolve after the late 1960s. It was at once eclipsed by Abstract Expressionism and assimilated by the same corporate marketing sources that it had used for creative fuel. Pop Art has remained popular with collectors, especially as a symbol of the culture of the 1960s.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Pop Art and when did it originate?
Pop Art is an art movement that emerged in the 1950s and gained prominence in the 1960s, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It is characterized by its focus on popular culture and the use of imagery from mass media, advertising, and consumer goods. Pop Art challenges traditional fine art by incorporating elements from everyday life and utilizing mass production techniques. According to The Art Story, Pop Art was a direct response to the then-dominant ideas of abstract expressionism, seeking to blur the boundaries between "high" art and "low" culture.
Who are some of the most famous Pop Art artists?
Some of the most renowned Pop Art artists include Andy Warhol, known for his iconic depictions of Campbell's soup cans and Marilyn Monroe; Roy Lichtenstein, famous for his comic strip-inspired paintings; Keith Haring, recognized for his bold lines and vivid colors; and Claes Oldenburg, celebrated for his large-scale public sculptures of everyday objects. These artists are credited with defining the movement and influencing generations of artists to come. The Tate Gallery highlights these and other key figures as instrumental in shaping the Pop Art movement.
How did Pop Art influence culture and society?
Pop Art had a significant impact on culture and society by challenging the status quo of the art world and bringing art into the everyday conversation. It democratized art by making it more accessible and relatable to the general public. Pop Art also influenced various aspects of culture, including fashion, music, and advertising, by embracing and reinterpreting commercial and popular imagery. According to the Museum of Modern Art, Pop Art's influence extended beyond visual arts, affecting the broader cultural landscape and the way people perceived art and consumerism.
What are some characteristics of Pop Art?
Pop Art is characterized by its vibrant colors, bold lines, and the use of recognizable imagery from popular culture. It often employs techniques like irony, parody, and pastiche to comment on contemporary society. Pop Art works frequently utilize mechanical or commercial techniques such as silk-screening and are sometimes produced in multiple editions. The Smithsonian American Art Museum notes that Pop Art's aesthetic is instantly recognizable and has become synonymous with the cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s.
How does Pop Art differ from other art movements?
Pop Art distinguishes itself from other art movements through its embrace of mass culture and its departure from the abstract and esoteric subjects that dominated previous art forms. Unlike Abstract Expressionism, which focused on subjective emotional expression, Pop Art was more objective and depicted everyday, mundane objects. In contrast to the elitist tendencies of movements like Modernism, Pop Art was intentionally inclusive and sought to erase the boundaries between "high" and "low" art. The Guggenheim Museum explains that Pop Art's unique approach to source material and its commentary on consumerism set it apart from other contemporary movements.