Pop Art

Background:  

As Jim Dane commented, “Pop Art is everything art has not been for the last two decades. It’s a U-turn back to a representational visual communication, moving at a break-away speed. It is an American dream, optimistic, generous and naïve”. This very beautifully explains what pop art is all about.  

File:Pop-Art "Mick Jagger" Öl + Acryl auf Leinwand von Silvia Klippert.jpg  - Wikimedia Commons

What is Pop Art?  

The term pop-art is used to refer to the art movement that originated almost at the same time, in Britain and America. The movement was in a way, a challenge to the traditional style of fine art and included imagery from popular and mass communication commonplace mediums such as comic books, advertising, movies and other objects produced in bulk.   

One of the main aims of pop art was to use images of popular culture, as against the images of elitist culture, which were very popular hitherto. In pop art, the material was often visually removed from its usual context, isolated, or combined with unrelated material to create a surprise element.  

In a letter written by great pop artist Richard Hamilton to his friends, he lists the characteristics of pop art. He goes on to write that, “Pop Art is Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business”  

History of Pop Art:  

Pop art is an art movement, that first became visible in the 1950s and within 10 years it flourished in America and Britain. The art movement began as a rebellion against the dominant elitist art culture. The new generation of artists wanted to redefine art and culture against the traditional view held till then.   

Pop art was seen as an offshoot of Dada, a nihilistic movement that challenged the seriousness of contemporary Parisian art and, more broadly, the political and cultural situation that had brought war to Europe. These young artists after passing out of their art schools started looking at art from a completely different perspective. They believed that the art that was taught to them in art schools or what they saw in art galleries and museums did not have any connection with the real world outside. They wanted art to connect with the life of the common man and with the things they saw around them every day.   

Not knowing what to do and how to do, they looked up to common medium of mass communication such as Hollywood movies, advertising, product packaging, pop music and comic books for their imagery. During the 1950s, many American artists painted common objects like flags, beer cans, and other, similar objects, though with a painterly, expressive technique. The artists who pioneered the pop art in Britain were Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton, while for America this credit goes to Larry RiversRobert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. These are the artist who shaped the movement in its early days.  

Evolution of Pop Art:  

Some of the key characteristics of pop art were the use of bright colours, flat imagery, images of celebrities and fictional characters. This way, these pop artists not only stared identifying new areas of subjects for their art but also developed innovative ways to present them in the art. This can be seen as the first hints of Post Modernism. Due to this, these artists had to face a lot of flak from followers of Modernism. These modernist critics were baffled by the use of such, ‘low’ subject matter and their treatment of the subject.   

However, with time the artist drew inspiration from various sources in popular and commercial culture, and it evolved more and more and got a valuable contribution from different cultures and countries.  

American Pop v/s British Pop:  

Though Pop art originated in both these places around the same time and was inspired by subject matter, which were quite similar, still there are many differences in these two pop art forms.  

  • American pop art was mainly inspired by what American artists saw around them and what experiences they had living in that society.   

The British pop art, though initially inspired by American popular culture observed from a distance, it later evolved into a distinct art form.  

  • In America, the pop art the artists depicted the visual world in a way that everyone could relate with. These artists wanted to move away from abstract expressionism and emphasise on personal feelings. Hence these artists started using impersonal, mundane imagery, in their art to connect to common people.   

On the other hand, the pop art movement in Britain was more academic in its approach. While employing irony and parody, it focused more on what American popular imagery represented, and its power in manipulating people’s lifestyles. The 1950s art group The Independent Group (IG), is regarded as the precursor to the British Pop art movement.  

Conclusion:

Pop Art is used to describing art that has its source in popular and commercial culture, be it Hollywood movies, advertising, packaging, pop music or comic books. As a movement, it began in 1950s America and Britain and reached its peak in the 1960s. A manifestation of postmodernism, it broke away from the orthodoxies of the past shocking modernist critics for their low subject matter and seemingly apolitical and uncritical treatment of it. Product labelling, logos figure prominently in the schema of pop art in repetitive patterns; such a usage emphasizes the banal in any culture even though it does it with a touch of irony and sometimes detached affirmation for the artefacts of mass culture.  

Richard Hamilton and Andy Warhol were prominent for their pop art and developing new ways of expression and representation. Hamilton defined Pop art in 1957 as Popular, Transient, Expendable, Low Cost, Mass Produced, Young, Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous and Big Business.