Art One Oh One - Pop Art


We're back with Erin of Art Social, our mod art historian in her next instalment of Art One Oh One. Our last class was Abstract Expressionism. This time it's Pop Art, done of course in her stylish way. It's ALL about having the right teacher, eh? Think we should give her a good evaluation at the end of class? Meet you for coffee afterwards so we can talk ALL about what we learned about Pop Art.

"Pop Art looks out into the world. It doesn't look like a painting of something, it looks like the thing itself."

- Roy Lichtenstein


What's the first thing you think of when you hear the term "Pop Art"? I asked my boyfriend this question and he said pop-tarts. Umm. Not the answer I was expecting. I was going for Andy Warhol, Campbell's soup cans maybe... that's a more common answer, yes?

While Warhol has become synonymous with Pop Art, he wasn't the first to dabble in all things popular culture. In fact, Pop Art didn't even start in America. Although the origins of Pop Art are usually associated with the early 1960s in New York City, it actually began in the 1950s in London.

The first work considered "Pop" is Richard Hamilton's collage called Just What Is It That Makes Today's Home So Different, So Appealing? from 1956 (seen below). This work was first seen at This Is Tomorrow, an exhibit devoted to popular culture organized by the Independent Group of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Pop Art didn't make its American debut until 1962 with the exhibit The New Realists, held at New York City's Sidney Janis Gallery.

Hamilton described this collage as "'Instant' art from the magazines..." His use of popular imagery was an attack on the traditional division of "high" and "low" art, which was also meant as an assault on the social hierarchy in Britain. Using mainly American pop imagery carried an even more radical social message. He was a rebel... and Pop Art was a revolution, yo. Let's look at some of the imagery he pulled from American sources:


Pop artists, in England and America, used culture as the source of art (ranging from comic books, instruction manuals, advertisements, and media). They explored and critiqued in a very ironic + witty way questions like: What is authentic to now? What is important to our culture? I wonder what our answer would be now... Oh my gah, can you imagine how much fun Warhol would have had with instagram?? I digress.

Pop artists took a more playful approach to art and life, especially in comparison to the ol' Ab Ex boys club. Pop Art was both a celebration of postwar consumerism and a reaction against Abstract Expressionism. They rejected Ab Ex's emphasis on the artist's mark and the power of the subconscious. Pop artists were more interested in what was popular, transient, expendable, low cost, mass produced, young, sexy, gimmicky, and glamorous.

While images of soup cans, giant soft cake sculptures, and collages made from advertisements seem derivative and unexciting now - Pop artists were the very first to do this. Can you imagine how confused or completely stoked - one or the other - the art world must have been?

Exciting times, indeed. It seems once the flood gates of creativity opened during the '60s, all bets were off. Art could really be anything... or nothing at all. Join me next time for a look at Minimalism.

Images: Roy Lichtenstein, Ohhh... Alright... | Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup I: Tomato | Claes Oldenburg,Floor Cake | James Rosenquist, President Elect | Tom Wesselmann, Still Life #30 | Richard Hamilton, Just What Is It That Makes Today's Home So Different, So Appealing?