Pop Art

Explore how Pop artists were inspired by—and made art directly from—consumer goods, mass media, and popular culture.


Appropriation

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


Celebrity

See how Pop artists seized on and critiqued celebrity culture.


Postwar Context

In the years following World War II, America enjoyed an unprecedented period of economic and political growth. Many middle class Americans moved to the suburbs, spurred by the availability of inexpensive, mass-produced homes. A new kind of music, rock and roll, burst into popular culture and became the soundtrack of teenage rebellion. Marilyn Monroe was a reigning film star, and television replaced radio as the dominant media outlet.

But by the late 1950s and early 1960s, a cultural revolution was underway, led by activists, thinkers, and artists who sought to change, and even overturn, what was, in their eyes, a stifling social order ruled by conformity. The Vietnam War incited mass protests, the Civil Rights Movement sought equality for African Americans, and the women’s liberation movement gained momentum.

Pop Art: Inspired by the Everyday

It was in this climate of turbulence, experimentation, and increased consumerism that a new generation of artists emerged in Britain and America in the mid- to late-1950s. These artists began to look for inspiration and materials in their immediate environment. They made art that mirrored, critiqued, and, at times, incorporated everyday items, consumer goods, and mass media messaging and imagery. In reference to its intended popular appeal and its engagement with popular culture, it was called Pop art.

Pop artists strove for straightforwardness in their work, using bold swaths of primary colors, often straight from the can or tube of paint. They adopted commercial advertising methods like silkscreening, or produced multiples, downplaying the artist’s hand and subverting the idea of originality and preciousness—in marked contrast to the highly expressive, large-scale abstract paintings of the Abstract Expressionists, whose work had dominated postwar American art. Pop artists favored realism, everyday (even mundane) imagery, and heavy doses of irony and wit.

But many Pop artists, including Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, were very aware of the past. They sought to connect the traditions of fine art with the mass culture of television, advertising, film, and cartoons. At the same time, they challenged traditional boundaries between mediums and techniques, merging painting with photography and printmaking, combining handmade and readymade or mass-produced elements, and bringing together objects, images, and sometimes text to make new meaning.

1. A series of moving images, especially those recorded on film and projected onto a screen or other surface (noun); 2. A sheet or roll of a flexible transparent material coated with an emulsion sensitive to light and used to capture an image for a photograph or film (noun); 3. To record on film or video using a movie camera (verb).

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

The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

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

The production of large amounts of standardized products through the use of machine-assembly production methods and equipment.

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

The method with which an artist, writer, performer, athlete, or other producer employs technical skills or materials to achieve a finished product or endeavor.

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).

A stencil-based printmaking technique in which the first step is to stretch and attach a woven fabric (originally made of silk, but now more commonly of synthetic material) tightly over a wooden frame to create a screen. Areas of the screen that are not part of the image are blocked out with a variety of stencil-based methods. A squeegee is then used to press ink through the unblocked areas of the screen, directly onto paper. Screenprints typically feature bold, hard-edged areas of flat, unmodulated color. Also known as silkscreen and serigraphy.

The ratio between the size of an object and its model or representation, as in the scale of a map to the actual geography it represents.

A term coined by Marcel Duchamp in 1915 to describe prefabricated, often mass-produced objects isolated from their intended use and elevated to the status of art by the artist choosing and designating them as such. The term “assisted Readymade” refers to works of this type whose components have been combined or modified by the artist.

A work of art on paper that usually exists in multiple copies. It is created not by drawing directly on paper, but through a transfer process. The artist begins by creating a composition on another surface, such as metal or wood, and the transfer occurs when that surface is inked and a sheet of paper, placed in contact with it, is run through a printing press. Four common printmaking techniques are woodcut, etching, lithography, and screenprint.

A movement comprising initially British, then American artists in the 1950s and 1960s. Pop artists borrowed imagery from popular culture—from sources including television, comic books, and print advertising—often to challenge conventional values propagated by the mass media, from notions of femininity and domesticity to consumerism and patriotism. Their often subversive and irreverent strategies of appropriation extended to their materials and methods of production, which were drawn from the commercial world.

A term referring to small-scale, three-dimensional works of art conceived and produced in relatively large editions, and often issued by the same individuals or organizations that publish prints.

The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).

An element or substance out of which something can be made or composed.

The dominant artistic movement in the 1940s and 1950s, Abstract Expressionism was the first to place New York City at the forefront of international modern art. The associated artists developed greatly varying stylistic approaches, but shared a commitment to an abstract art that powerfully expresses personal convictions and profound human values. They championed bold, gestural abstraction in all mediums, particularly large painted canvases.

A term generally used to describe art that is not representational or based on external reality or nature.

Related Artists: Deborah Kass, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Pettibone, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann