Pop Art

Pre-Pop Art
Pop Art

Once Rauschenberg and Johns reintroduced recognizable imagery, the stage was set in the early 1960s for artists to draw their subjects directly from popular (“pop”) culture. With a resounding WHAAM! Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-derived paintings took direct aim at the sides of abstract art of the 50s. Besides Lichtenstein, artists like Andy Warhol, and Claes Oldenburg who both had commercial art backgrounds, based their work on images from Time Square neon signs, the mass media, and advertising.

This return to pictorial subject matter was hardly a return to art tradition. Pop art made icons of the crassest consumer items like hamburgers, toilets, lawn mowers, lipstick tubes, mounds of orange spaghetti, and celebrities like Elvis Presley. “There is no reason not to consider the world,” Rauschenberg said, “as one large painting.”

Pop artists blazed into super stardom in 1962 like comets in a Marvel comic. Pop was easy to like. Its shiny colors, snappy designs— often blown up to heroic size— and mechanical quality gave it a glossy familiarity. Pop became as much an overnight phenomenon as a new artistic movement. Collectors compared the skyrocketing prices of their acquisitions to IBM stock. Meanwhile, galleries full of passé Abstract Expressionist inventory were out of the action. One jealously posted a sign next to an exhibit of Warhol soup cans: “Get the real thing for 29 cents.”

For the architect Philip Johnson, a Pop collector, the art was more than monetarily enriching. “What Pop art has done for me is to make the world a pleasanter place to live in,” he said, “I look at things with an entirely different eye — at Coney Island, at billboards, at Coca-Cola bottles. One of the duties of art is to make you look at the world with pleasure. Pop art is the only movement in this century that has tried to do it.”

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