Pop artists absorbed and 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.

The growing popularity of television in American homes in the late 1950s and early 1960s fed a culture of celebrity-worship across the United States. Now able to view their favorite actors, musicians, athletes, and politicians from the comfort of their living rooms, the public became captivated by people who represented the American dream of money, glamour, and success.

Pop artists seized on the culture of celebrity worship, portraying cultural icons and political figures from a range of media. They embraced, and at times slyly critiqued, this media-saturated culture, employing the faces of Hollywood actors, musicians, notorious criminals, politicians—and the tabloid stories surrounding them—as sources of imagery and reflections of the changing culture.

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

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 person, symbol, object, or place that is widely recognized or culturally significant to a large group of people.

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.

The technique and resulting work of art in which fragments of paper and other materials are arranged and glued to a supporting surface.

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

Say What?
During his lifetime, Pop artist Andy Warhol was as well known for his public persona as for his artistic creations. In 1968 he famously remarked, “In the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes”—a wry comment on the easily obtained, yet ever-fleeting, nature of celebrity in a media-saturated society.

The Rise of Network Television
Regular television network programming did not begin in the U.S. until 1948. That year, legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini made his first of 10 TV appearances conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and Texaco Star Theater, starring comedian Milton Berle, became television’s first hit show.

Questions & Activities

  1. Letter to the Editor: “If I Were a Celebrity for a Day…”

    Many celebrities apply their fame and fortune to community work for a cause of their choice: children, world hunger, the environment, etc. If you were famous for a day, what cause would you choose to help and why?

    Write a letter to your local school blog or newspaper outlining your cause and how you plan to raise the public’s consciousness about this issue. What networks or media outlets will you use? What do you hope to achieve by your celebrity status?

  2. Designing a New Social Network

    Think. With the advent of the Internet and social media, outlets for ‘regular’ people to become ‘celebrities’ are growing fast. What is your opinion of the growth of social media in the past 5 years? What do you like or dislike about social networks like Twitter,  Facebook, and Google+ and how easy it is to follow celebrities? Can you envision something different–a new solution to connecting with fans?

    Write. Summarize your thoughts on these questions.

    Discuss and Share. Meet in small groups to discuss the questions above. Design a new outlet for social networking. Present to your class and discuss best qualities of all groups.

  3. Design a Celebrity Poster

    Brainstorm. Make a list of all of the celebrities that you admire or follow in the media. Next to that list, write down all of the qualities you admire about them. Some people– such as a teacher, community leader, grandparent, friend, or pet– might not be well known celebrities, but are ‘famous’ to you. Share your two lists with a friend, compare and contrast.

    Research. Next, choose someone from your list. Research this person’s cultural background and decide what two or three characteristics make this person a celebrity. Record your thoughts in the space below.

    Design the Poster. Draw or trace a photo of the person onto a sheet of paper. Think about background and composition. Don’t be afraid to mix colors and make new color combinations that represent your subject’s qualities. Color in with colored pencils, markers, or crayons. Put your celebrity’s name on the poster. If possible, bring an image of this person to share alongside your artwork.

    Share. Hang all of the posters in a “Celebrity Hall of Fame”. Host a gallery walk and notice how different “celebrities” are represented differently through color and composition, and how those choices make the image successful.

  4. Create a Self-portrait

    There are many different ways to represent people. Choose one of the artistic styles in this theme—the grid of a repeating image, the overlapping double image, or the fragmented and inverted image, for example—and create a self-portrait in that style. Consider the following questions: What do you want to tell the viewer about yourself? What colors represent you? If you were to add words, what would they be?

  5. Construct a Celebrity Collage

    Look. In the spirit of James Rosenquist, find and cut out a few images of your favorite celebrity. Search for other advertising images or text that would construct an interesting story of your celebrity. Be sure to think of the message you want to create about this person.

    Make. Cut up the images and arrange in a collage work that visually tells your story. Show a friend and ask them if they understand your message.