The famous Pop artist Andy Warhol once said: “Art is anything you can get away with.” And his iconic work that was symbolic of the movement illustrates it’s true. Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, for one, proves his statement. In the 1950s, a movement incorporating common, everyday items into art was born.
Pop art emerged amidst the advertising boom and post-war economy. It was a ground-breaking movement, and because of its bold new style, Pop art flooded the scene of the time.
Familiar images from consumer culture and media—comic strips, celebrity photographs, newspapers—found their way into works of art. The movement proved that art could come from any source, and no social class structure could determine what art was. It elevated pop culture to the level of fine art, bringing together both art connoisseurs and untrained viewers.
What is Pop art?
The Pop art movement was a cultural phenomenon born in the late 1950s (and thrived through the 60s) in the U.S. and the U.K. In their work, artists portrayed aspects of popular culture that had an impact on contemporary life. This became a signature of the movement. Inspiration was taken from television, movies, magazines, comic books, and advertising.
Pop art was, in part, a reaction to Abstract Expressionism, a highly personal style and dominant trend in the 50s. The Pop art movement wanted to blur the boundaries between “high” and “low” art. It was mainly characterized by the desire to bring art back to a more detached and universally accessible style—something everyone could understand. Artists in the movement borrowed from pop culture to challenge ideas of originality and what it meant to be an artist.
Leaders of the movement
The backgrounds of its leaders largely influenced the subject and work of Pop art. Many Pop artists began their careers in commercial art. For instance, Andy Warhol was a successful graphic designer and magazine illustrator. Another leader in the movement, Ed Ruscha, was also a graphic designer.
Roy Lichtenstein’s art was influenced by advertising and comic books. It included stylized imitations of comic strips using the color dots and flat tones of commercial printing.
These artists’ experience in commercial art trained them in the visual world of mass culture. They also learned skills that helped them bring art to popular culture.
Elevating common materials
Along with subjects that were accessible to everyday life, Pop art incorporated common materials into the works themselves. Pop art celebrated mass-produced objects, and also brought in more manufactured materials.
Claes Oldenburg was best known for his giant sculptures of everyday life, which were often made of plastic or cloth stuffed with paper or rags. They depicted objects like bathroom fixtures, giant hamburgers, and typewriters.
Artists like George Segal also used more synthetic and less traditional materials—like life-sized plaster-cast figures and props retrieved from junkyards. He established the use of plaster bandages (usually used for casts) as a medium. And then he placed his sculptures in everyday urban environments like buses and diners.
Art for the masses
Much of the work in Pop art linked art to pop culture and advertisements. It made art more accessible to all people and even incorporated printmaking techniques (like photo silkscreen) invented initially for commercial use.
“I don’t think art should be only for the select few,” Warhol once commented, “I think it should be for the mass of the American people.” Through incorporating commercial images, Pop art has become one of the most recognizable styles of modern art. The movement brought art to everyone, something that has continued to the present day.