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Pop artists borrowed from popular culture, challenging notions of originality and what it means to be an artist.

Drowning Girl

Roy Lichtenstein
(American, 1923–1997)

1963. Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 67 5/8 x 66 3/4" (171.6 x 169.5 cm)

Many of Roy Lichtenstein’s early paintings appropriated imagery found in comic books. Drowning Girl, samples a page from issue #83 of Secret Hearts, a romance comic book illustrated by Tony Abruzzo and published by DC Comics in 1962. In Abruzzo’s original illustration, the drowning girl’s boyfriend appears in the background, clinging to a capsized boat. Meanwhile, the drowning girl in the foreground laments with closed eyes.

To create Drowning Girl, Lichtenstein cropped Abruzzo’s splash page (a comic book page with a single image surrounded by a frame), showing the woman alone and encircled by a threatening wave. He also changed the caption from “I don’t care if I have a cramp!” to “I don’t care!” and the boyfriend’s name from Mal to Brad. Describing his use of the comics medium, Lichtenstein says, “My work is actually different from comic strips in that every mark is really in a different place, however slight the difference seems to some. The difference is often not great, but it is crucial.”

Critics continue to debate the differences between Lichtenstein’s painting and Abruzzo’s illustration. The similarities continue to invite questions about authorship, style, and the value society ascribes to different forms of art.

1. A drama, such as a play, film, or television program, characterized by exaggerated emotions, stereotypical characters, and interpersonal conflicts; 2. Behavior or occurrences having melodramatic characteristics.

A rendering of the basic elements of a composition, often made in a loosely detailed or quick manner. Sketches can be both finished works of art or studies for another composition.

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

A representation of a human or animal form in a work of art.

The subject matter or significance of a work of art, especially as contrasted with its form.

A closely woven, sturdy cloth of hemp, cotton, linen, or a similar fiber, frequently stretched over a frame and used as a surface for painting.

One of three base colors (blue, red, or yellow) that can be combined to make a range of colors.

A series of events, objects, or compositional elements that repeat in a predictable manner.

The shape or structure of an object.

In photography, editing, typically by removing the outer edges of the image. This process may happen in the darkroom or on a computer.

The arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole; also used to refer to a work of art, music, or literature, or its structure or organization.

Colored dots (generally in four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) used to create shading and secondary colors in the mechanical reproduction of images.

The area of an artwork that appears farthest away from the viewer; also, the area against which a figure or scene is placed.

As an artistic strategy, the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images, objects, and ideas.