Appropriation is the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images and objects. It is a strategy that has been used by artists for millennia, but took on new significance in mid-20th-century America and Britain with the rise of consumerism and the proliferation of popular images through mass media outlets from magazines to television.
Pop artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselman, and Roy Lichtenstein reproduced, juxtaposed, or repeated mundane, everyday images from popular culture—both absorbing and acting as a mirror for the ideas, interactions, needs, desires, and cultural elements of the times. As Warhol stated, “Pop artists did images that anyone walking down the street would recognize in a split second—comics, picnic tables, men’s pants, celebrities, refrigerators, Coke bottles.” Today, appropriating, remixing, and sampling images and media is common practice for visual, media, and performance artists, yet such strategies continue to challenge traditional notions of originality and test the boundaries of what it means to be an artist.
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A rough or unfinished version of any creative work, often made to assist in the completion of a more finished work (noun); to make a rough drawing or painting (verb).
Cultural activities, ideas, or products that reflect or target the tastes of the general population of any society.
A movement composed of initially British, then American artists in the 1950s and 1960s, which was characterized by references to imagery and products from popular culture, media, and advertising.
A term that emerged in the 1960s to describe a diverse range of live presentations by artists.
An act of placing things close together or side by side for comparison or contrast.
An artistic and literary movement that grew out of dissatisfaction with traditional social values and conventional artistic practices during World War I (1914–18). Dada artists were disillusioned by the social values that led to the war and sought to expose accepted and often repressive conventions of order and logic by shocking people into self-awareness.
In the visual arts, appropriation is the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images and objects.
Questions & Activities
Take a Stand
Debate. Andy Warhol famously said that “everyone is an artist.” With a friend, debate Warhol’s claim. Do you agree or disagree, and what reasons do you have for your opinion?
Reflect. Create a list of criteria for art.
Pop Art Presentation
Research. What was happening in the 1960s when Pop artists began appropriating popular culture imagery? How does this imagery differ from that used by Dada artists earlier in the 20th century? Take time to explore the story of Dada on MoMA Learning.
Compare. Create a short 10-slide presentation explaining the differences and similarities between the two movements, their distinct moments in history, and your questions about them. Present it to a friend and see if he or she has any good ideas to add.
Alter an Advertisement
Find an image on a billboard or in a magazine, photograph it, and import it into Photoshop or another image processing software. Manipulate the image by cropping, adding text or images, or changing the color. See what kind of statement you can make. Give this new piece a title and show it to a friend.
Rauschenberg & Co.
Rauschenberg said, “Painting relates to both art and life…. I try to act in that gap between the two.”
Discuss. What does Rauschenberg mean by “the gap”? Converse with a friend.
Research. What other artists embrace Rauschenberg’s ideas about the relatedness between art and life? Find and research other artists who embrace Rauschenberg’s ethos. List 3-4 artists, and the ways in which they reflect Rauschenberg’s quote.
Transform an Object
Select. Find an everyday object that represents where you live right now.
Make. Transform this object into your own artwork using a mix of media, including nontraditional art materials. Before starting, make a sketch to plan your work. You will need to consider:
- What is your object’s cultural relevance or meaning?
- How do you want to celebrate or change or critique that object’s meaning?
- What materials will you use?
- How big will the work be?
Once you have brainstormed and sketched, then construct. Make sure to give your work a title when you finish it.