Does Pop Art Still Matter?

A hugely popular movement in its hey day, what made Pop Art so different, exciting and rebellious? Does anyone today still care? Here’s all you need to know about Pop Art, then and now. 

Richard Hamilton (1922-2011), I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas 1971 Screen print on collotype
Richard Hamilton (1922-2011), I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas 1971 Screen print on collotype

Origins

Pop Art, or Propaganda Art as it was originally called, emerged as a post-modernist art form, revolutionising the way art was observed, created and consumed forever. It rebelled against the elitism of the artistic establishment, was fresh, optimistic, outspoken and relevant and was accessible by everyone.

Originating in the UK in the 1950’s and flourishing in the US in the 60’s and 70’s, it even influenced music with pop artist Peter Blake designing seminal album covers for Elvis and the Beatles as did Warhol for The Velvet Underground. 

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) John Wayne 1986 Screen print
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) John Wayne 1986 Screen print

Starting a Revolution

But why did Pop Art cause such disruption? It responded to the surge in capitalist and consumer culture in post war America and utilised both. Artists used identifiable and commonplace imagery from comics, product packaging designs and celebrity images, bringing art out of the galleries and into everyday life. This blurred the lines between high art and its elitist following and low, mass culture. Pop Art could be deciphered by everyone who understood culture and behaviours. This shift in focus was an important element in the movement and still is in modern art today.

Ironically, artists were no longer judged on execution but on their concepts. The artist’s selection, then isolation or combination of appropriated subject matter highlighted their work as symbols of social commentary for the viewer’s aesthetic and subjective contemplation. 

Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Space Fruit: Cantaloupes II, 1979 Screen print
Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Space Fruit: Cantaloupes II, 1979 Screen print

Key Ideas

Pop Art followed Abstract Expressionism and was heavily influenced by the Dada and Surrealist movements. It used simplified forms, repetition, symbols, dots, overlays and reproductions. It was often on a large scale, using a simplified palette of bright reds, yellows and blues and it appeared in sculpture, collage and silk screen-printing.

Controversially, there was no guided meaning from the artist that the viewer needed to interpret and this was one of its greatest strengths, making it both relatable and accessible. Its simplicity pushed the viewer to make up their mind about whether the objects were superficial or thematically complex and respond directly to the artist without the influence of any art critique. It was in stark contrast to the intended ambiguity of the Abstract Expressionists, who were mocked in Pop Art as a common theme. 

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), Crying Girl, 1963 Lithography
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), Crying Girl, 1963 Lithography

Pop Art facts:

  • Some of the movement’s major artists were Eduardo Paolozzi, PeterBlake, Richard Hamilton, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, David HockneyKeith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Sigmar Polke, unified by the subject matter they used rather than their style. 

  • The term ‘pop’ art has been attributed to British art critic Lawrence Alloway in the 1950’s, which referred to new type of art that was inspired by visuals from popular culture.

  • Irony was used as a key theme, particularly by artists such as Warhol and Polke, whereas some like Lichtenstein were less clear.

  • The term ‘pop’ art has been attributed to British art critic Lawrence Alloway in the 1950’s, which referred to new type of art that was inspired by visuals from popular culture.

  • Irony was used as a key theme, particularly by artists such as Warhol and Polke, whereas some like Lichtenstein were less clear.

  • American Pop Art was considered symbolic, controversial and depersonalised from the artist, whereas in England it was more metaphorical, subjective and thematic.

  •  Warhol aspired to become a ‘business artist’ after his turn as a traditional one. Pop Art was in juxtaposition to the other communist and bohemian ideals of the 1960’s.

  • The saying that everyone is famous for fifteen minutes came from Andy Warhol when he was talking about Pop Art in 1968. 

Banksy (1974 – present) Grannies 2006 Screen print
Banksy (1974 – present) Grannies 2006 Screen print

Today

So is it still relevant now? Simply, yes. It’s more popular than ever, from sales of traditional pop art and exhibitions all over the world to merchandise. By satirizing cultural behaviours it captures the now and preserves the past in a way art didn’t and couldn’t do before. It continues to represent a lack of conformity and its simple cultural statements give it its relevant and timeless quality. Its distinguishing colours, everyday subject matter, dots and strong lines still feature profoundly in work today, transcending heavily into urban art too. Furthermore, its enduring appeal means it is considered a safe investment, representing some of the most expensive art sold today. In 2013, Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) sold for $104.5m and Lichtenstein’s Nurse for $95.4 million. 

Murakami (1962 – present) Warp, 2009 Offset print, cold stamp and high varnishing on paper
Murakami (1962 – present) Warp, 2009 Offset print, cold stamp and high varnishing on paper

Check out some of its biggest artists today – Briels, Rizzi, Banksy, Murakami and Kaufman. Take part in this quiz to determine what your taste in art says about your personality. 

About the Author:

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Sam Allen

Sam Allen is an arts nut, hobbyist painter and founder of Creative Arts Social, a Singaporean based arts community. You can follow her on Facebook @CreativeArtsSocial and on Instagram @CreativeArtsSocial