The term "Pop Art" was coined by English art critic Lawrence Alloway in the late 1950s. He used it to describe what he viewed as a contemporary attitudinal shift in subject matter and techniques of art. Instead of rarefied content such as Bible stories, myths or legends that had traditionally been the subjects of Fine Art, Pop Art featured the increasing spread of corporate marketing through Western culture as inspiration to make commerce the subject of artistic scrutiny. In Pop Art, this type of subject matter was considered every bit as artistically worthy as the traditional subject matter of Fine Art.
The Pop Art Movement
Beginning in England in the mid-1950s and the United States in the early 1960s, Pop Art focused on everyday objects rendered through an adoption of commercial art techniques. In so doing, artists availed themselves of images and ideas culled from popular culture — such as movies, comic books, advertising and especially television — and faithfully reproduced in all their mass-produced glory. By making use of what had been dismissed as kitsch by the art establishment, Pop artists whose works were displayed in museums effectively thumbed their collective noses at the distinctions between highbrow art and lowbrow art.
Artists and Examples
Although Andy Warhol was not the first artist to mine advertising for art, he has remained the best-known practitioner of Pop Art. In paintings such as 200 Campbell's Soup Cans (1962) and Marilyn Monroe Diptych (1962), Warhol tried to elevate mechanical reproduction to Fine Art status, enraging some critics even as buyers eagerly bought up his work. Similarly, Roy Lichtenstein turned to the comic strips of his youth to inspire his garishly bright art that depicted sensational action or drama formed by the same kind of enlarged printer's dots that were used on cheap newsprint, and he reaped great success in the process.
Other artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Hamilton, formed collages out of pre-existing print images that took on added subtexts of ironic or sardonic meaning when assembled together. Muralist James Rosenquist created billboard-sized works that were crammed with consumer goods as a comment on media overload, and sculptor Claes Oldenburg sought to deprive everyday objects of their function, crafting soft vinyl toilets and humongous hot water bottles that would have no practical use.
Designed for the masses, Pop Art saw its design aesthetic dissolve after the late 1960s. It was at once eclipsed by Abstract Expressionism and assimilated by the same corporate marketing sources that it had used for creative fuel. Pop Art has remained popular with collectors, especially as a symbol of the culture of the 1960s.