The Pop Art Movement in the US
The Pop Art Movement in the US
The US pop art movement was born in New York in the 1960s when artists such as James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol began co-opting well-known imagery from popular culture. Anything and everything was fair game, but of particular interest to many young artists in the pop art movement were the thousands of ads from dozens of burgeoning television advertisement firms, many of which were headquartered (or at least had a major branch office) in New York. In the 1960s, television had recently passed radio as the most widespread medium for media consumption and production, and US pop artists were very much interested in what this change meant for our culture.
Whereas modernism (one of the prevailing movements in art prior to the advent of World War II) focused on “fine art” sources (classical mythology, history, and rational discourse and thought), US pop artists were much more concerned with the objects of everyday life (Andy Warhol’s renditions of the Campbell’s soup cans as a famous example). These young artists sought to break the mold of traditional source material, choosing to examine everyday life through a new lens and elevate popular culture into the realm of fine art.
Many of the most famous US pop artists also had extensive backgrounds in commercial advertising, which had an enormous boom during the 1950s and 60s. This background gave them the skills and vocabulary of the emerging advertising markets, which allowed many of the artists to negotiate successfully on their own behalf when selling their pieces to galleries and individuals. Whereas prior art movements (surrealism and abstract expressionism among them) encouraged examination and criticism of the artist’s life as well as hypotheses regarding the emotional content of their work, US pop artists often produced pieces that were largely devoid of emotion. The images often focused on the element of popular culture itself, such as a rendition of a large company’s logo, against a stark or relatively minimalist background. Andy Warhol is an outstanding artist whose works exemplify this.
This departure from emotional content has lead art critics to a few different schools of thought as per the motivations of US pop artists. Some have made the case that these young artists simply sought to present the objects in their purest form as a kind of living documentary, a chronicle for history of an industry that had (at the time) never before been seen on the planet. Considering the nuclear tensions that ran rampant during the Cold War, such an interpretation is not so far-fetched. Perhaps some of the artists saw themselves as new scribes, patiently recording the objects of a new world that might not exist following a hypothetical nuclear catastrophe. Other art critics believed (and this is perhaps the prevailing view today) that these artists attempted to reduce an art movement down to an ironic caricature of itself, one in which the paintings (for which artists had always sought compensation no matter the era) were now mostly objects of widespread consumption themselves.
Keywords: US pop artists, art critic, art movement, young artist, pop art, andy Warhol, james rosenquist