Pop Art – The art of Popular Culture

An art movement which began in the Great Britain in the 1950s, Pop Art an abbreviation of Popular Art, got it’s motivation as a challenge to the existing traditions of high art and their dominance. The main drive behind pop art was to remove the boundaries between high art and popular culture. The term ‘pop’ was first used to signify popular culture and not really a form of art which borrowed from that culture. Pop art artists believed in the uniformity of art, in the sense that there is no hierarchical position of any artistic creation. Any source can borrow and be influenced from another. This is interestingly, one of the most significant features of postmodernism.


Pop ArtPop art emerged as a reaction to the contemporary dominance of abstract expressionism. The abstract expressionists represented, by means of their creation the trauma that existed deep within the human soul. The contrary happened with pop art. These artists represented all that could already be seen in the outside world through advertising, cartoons and popular imagery. They expressed through these means only. It can be said that pop artists were the first to point out that everything in this world is connected- be it the soul, the natural world, or the built environment.


Pop art takes inspiration from images widely circulated by popular culture such as advertising, comic books and mundane cultural objects. It found it’s subjects in found objects. Here lies it’s similarities with the Dadaist movement. It’s use of popular, banal and often kitschy images posed as a contrary to the use of elitist images in high art. The other important feature which marks a difference between pop art and high art is the means of distribution. While high art remains exclusive, pop art is reproduced by mechanical means. Material is often visually removed from its known context, isolated, and/or combined with unrelated material.


It is not so much the work of art, but the thought that went behind the movement that matters in case of pop art. The general attitude in case of pop art is a very cold distancing from the subject. This lies in complete contrast to the works of high art that existed during that time. They were rich in expressions of the pangs of the subject, whereas in case of pop art, there is ambivalence.


A Short history

I was a Rich Man's PlaythingThe British art critic Lawrence Alloway is credited with coining the word ‘pop’. He used it to describe an emerging art style which depicted images from the popular culture. Along with Alloway, the artists Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi, started the Independent Group which was a collective of artists, architects, and writers. Their main aim was to explore radical approaches to contemporary visual culture. They conducted meetings at ICA in London between 1952 and 1955. They were among the founding fathers of the pop art culture in Britain. During their first meeting at Paolozzi they gave a visual lecture which was called ‘Bunk’. This was a short term for ‘bunkum’ which meant nonsense. This provided a critical and analytical look at the American way of life. Images used were from American magazines which were received from GI’s still resident in Paris in the late 1940s. One of the known images used during this meeting was ‘I was a Rich Man’s Plaything’.


The British pop artists looked at the American lifestyle from an outsider’s point of view. They had a sense of irony and some may say a little envy in their outlook. To them, America was the land of the free – a culture which was not heavily burdened, which could allow youthful enjoyment, which did not care much about how ‘classy’ a work of art was, but could simply mass produce materials and enjoy them. This inane demand for desire was supported by the Dadaist images and collages. One of the best examples of British pop art is Richard Hamilton’s collage of 1956, ‘Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?’

 Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?

The evolution of pop art in America was somewhat different as compared to that in Britain. Abstract Expressionism was used both as an inspiration and as a representative of an establishment that the pop artists could rebel against. In the hands of the expressionist painters, art had become too elitist and too far away from the common people.  The American Pop Art aimed to bring art back to the real world, to take it away from the world of the obscure to that which evolved around the images with which most people could relate. Artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg lay the foundation for the American Pop Art around 1955. Another very significant artist in the American pop art was Andy Warhol.


The appearance of pop art coincided with the globalization of pop music and youth culture. Pop Art was able to provide a fresh approach towards art- bringing it closer to the real life of people. It was young and fun. It aimed to remove the existing barriers between art and the masses. It made use of different styles of painting and sculpture. The only thing common between them was the means of mass production.