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


See how Pop artists seized on and critiqued celebrity culture.

Appropriation is the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of existing images and objects. A strategy that has been used by artists for millennia, it took on new significance in the mid-20th century with the rise of consumerism and the proliferation of images through mass media outlets from magazines to television.

Pop artists reveled in reproducing, juxtaposing, and repeating everyday images from popular culture in their wide-ranging work. In doing so, they both mirrored and critiqued the ideas, desires, and cultural trends of their time. As Andy 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, sampling, and remixing elements of popular culture is common practice for artists working in many different mediums, but such strategies continue to challenge notions of originality and authorship, and to push the boundaries of what it means to be an artist.

To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

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.

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).

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.

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.

An act of placing things close together or side by side for comparison or contrast.

An artistic and literary movement formed in response to the disasters of World War I (1914–18) and to an emerging modern media and machine culture. Dada artists sought to expose accepted and often repressive conventions of order and logic, favoring strategies of chance, spontaneity, and irreverence. Dada artists experimented with a range of mediums, from collage and photomontage to everyday objects and performance, exploding typical concepts of how art should be made and viewed and what materials could be used. An international movement born in neutral Zurich and New York, Dada rapidly spread to Berlin, Cologne, Hannover, Paris, and beyond.

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

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

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

Questions & Activities

  1. Take a Stand

    Debate. Andy Warhol famously said that “everyone is an artist.” Debate Warhol’s claim with a friend. Do you agree or disagree, and what reasons do you have for your opinion?

    Reflect. Create a list of criteria for defining something as a work of art.

  2. Pop Art Presentation

    Research. What was happening in the 1960s when Pop artists were appropriating imagery from popular culture? How does this imagery differ from that used by Dada artists earlier in the 20th century? Take time to explore Dada on MoMA Learning.

    Compare. Create a short 10-slide presentation explaining the differences and similarities between Dada and Pop art, including their distinct historical contexts and your questions about these movements. Present your presentation to a friend and see if he or she has any good ideas to add.

  3. Alter an Advertisement

    Find an image on a billboard or in a magazine, photograph it, and import it into image processing software of your choice. Manipulate the image by cropping it, adding text or images to it, or changing its color. What kind of statements can you make? Give your manipulated image a title and show it to a friend.

  4. Rauschenberg & Co.

    Robert Rauschenberg famously said, “Painting relates to both art and life….I try to act in that gap between the two.”

    Discuss. What does Rauschenberg mean by “that gap”? Discuss with a friend.

    Research. What other artists embrace Rauschenberg’s ideas about the relatedness between art and life? Find and research other artists who have a similar ethos. Make a list of three to four of these artists, and define the ways in which their approach and work reflect Rauschenberg’s quote.

  5. Transform an Object

    Select. Find an everyday object that represents where you live now.

    Make. Transform this object into your own artwork using a mix of mediums, including nontraditional art materials. Before starting, make a sketch to plan your work. 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 your work be?

    Once you have finished brainstorming and sketching, construct your work. Make sure to give your work a title when you finish it.