What is Pop Art? Part 1

April 26, 2011

Although difficult to define any genre of art, Pop Art is particularly elusive in that it reflects the current fads and imagery associated with consumerism and popular culture. Today, Pop Art can be characterized by its vibrant colors, dark outlines and often playful content that make it so attractive to the general public. As a growing and constantly evolving movement, few people realize Pop Art was founded over five decades ago.

The Golden Age of the Pop Art movement took place between 1958 and 1975. It was one of the biggest art movements of the twentieth century, despite many critics denouncing this new style as "kitsch", or a tasteless and cheap imitation of true, valuable art. The term Pop Art was first coined by Lawrence Alloway, an English art critic, in an edition of Architectural Digest. He used this phrase to describe a break from the elitism that was associated with the predominant art of the time.

The Pop Art movement was the result of a combination of two factors: the 1950's postwar economic boom and a general frustration among artists with Abstract Expressionism. After World War II, the market for consumer goods ballooned as a growing middle class began to indulge in luxury items. As a result, advertising agencies expanded their grasp on the American landscape and utilized radio, television and print to drive demand. This led to products being mass marketed and advertised like never before.

During this boom many artists were becoming frustrated with the predominant art style of the time, Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism was a nontraditional art form popular in the early half of the twentieth century. It expressed ideas and emotions through abstract or nonrepresentational means. A backlash developed against this style, first in Britain and then the United States. Many artists believed it was elitist and exclusionary, as its content was often left to scholars for interpretation. Others noted that these pieces were solely found in the galleries of renowned museums, or in the expensive homes of private collectors.

A desire emerged to make art more accessible to the average American. Artists wanted to take their work out of galleries, and allow them to be appreciated in everyday homes. They began to create content and imagery that was familiar to the blue collar consumer, with a message or meaning that was decipherable. A handful of artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Tom Wesselmann were in the history of Pop Art. They recognized the value of comic book pages and modern advertising, and drew inspiration from magazines, television and even film.

Since this Golden Age of Pop Art, a number of waves have come after it. Each generation of Pop Art artists have interpreted the influence of mass media on society differently. Today, artists such as Romero Britto, Carlos Navarro and Tim Rogerson are a part of the Neo-Pop Art movement. This new chapter in the history of Pop Art utilizes vibrant colors and cartoon themes to convey often complex forms and ideas. Although Pop Art spans over 50 years and has evolved greatly, the original objective of bringing art in to the home of the average American persists.

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