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.

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

Derived from the French verb coller, meaning “to glue,” collage refers to both the technique and the resulting work of art in which fragments of paper and other materials are arranged and glued or otherwise affixed to a supporting surface.

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 on the growth of social media in the past 5 years? What do you like or dislike about social platforms 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. 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?

  4. 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.