PopArt is art in which commonplace objects and images such as cars, soup cans, electrical appliances, cartoon strips, are used as subject matter for artistic composition. Popularized by such, now infamous, artists as Roy LichtensteinAndy Warhol and Claus Oldenburg, pop art was an artistic and cultural movement in America and Britain in the late 1950's and 60's. Though easily and frequently disregarded (both contemporarily and historically) as anti aesthetic, overly commercial, sensationalized and even vulgar, pop art was a powerful provocateur to historical artistic movements and instructive for the future in its vision of art.


 Historical Perspective

    Pop art is decidedly rooted in the tradition of Realism, an aesthetic which revoked an idealization of subject matter in favor of subject matter drawn from the commonplace, the everyday. In the words of Gustave Courbet, a champion  of the Realistic perspective, "for an artist the practice of art should involve bringing to bear his faculties on the ideas and objects of the period in which he lives"(Britt). And indeed the focus for the Pop Artists is on the objects at hand, the images of the mass media--t.v., cinema, picture magazines, billboards etc. Hamburgers, spaghettios, Coca-cola are prolific images in the art of the era.



   Pop Art is connected below the surface with the early 20th Century artistic movement known as Dada. Both Dada and Pop Art developed in part to counter the status quo, standing up in oppostion to the established "high art" of their times. The Dadaists rose up in reaction to the bourgeois society of the pre World War I society. A society whose "rottenness" was exemplified for the Dadaists in the destructive nature of World War I. Believing that the traditional artist was a mere prop of the elite, a paid marionette for the powerful, the Dadaists revoked the status quo by creating art which was anti aesthetic. In one of their many manifestos the Dadaists proclaimed that "art had become a debased currency, just a matter for the connoisseur whose taste was merely dependent on habit" (Britt). They promoted art "not by artists but simply by men" (Britt). Marcel Duchamp, a leader of the Dada movement, first promoted the idea of the 'ready-made' object, begging the question of whether the mere touch of the artist defines an object as a work of art. 'Ready-made' objects such as Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel 1913 is clearly a predecessor to the pop art of the 1960's.
    The attempt to erase the lines between high and low art is apparent in both the Dada and Pop Art Movements. Both movements make a change moving away from a prescriptive aesthetic to a descriptive aesthetic.


Reaction to Abstract Expressionist


    Pop art was also in many ways a reaction against Abstract Expressionism, the dominant artistic movement in the United States in the 1950's. The highly expressive motivation and spontaneous technique of such Abstract Expressionists as Jackson Pollock and Hans Hoffman lies in stark opposition to the depersonalized, objectified work of the Pop Artist. Emphasizing the concept of the real world in an objectified image such as a soup can, Pop Art directly refutes the emotional content of such figure less paintings as Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles. To opposite poles these two movements reach. Abstract expressionists delve deeply into the personal, the individual psyche while the Pop artist looks out towards the objects of the world.


Relevancy of Pop Art

     Pop Art in many ways continued the work of such anti aesthetic traditions as Realism and Dadaism, continuing the tradition even across genre boundaries from such movements as Bertolt Brecht's epic theater (i.e. Brecht's theory concerning the Verfremdungseffekt-alienation effect). Consider the effect of Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe images repeated over and over, silk-screened across a canvas, or his colored cows covering an entire wall; the effect is startling, alienating. The viewer cannot ignore the absurdity of the repeated images, it changes the viewer's vision of the object at hand. It calls into question that that had been previously accepted, expected. Besides provoking past tradition, the Pop Art movement of the 1960’s offers its audience for the first time a new way to see the world, a new way to analyze while playing with the mundane, the urbane image of a mass media culture. It is this new vision that is relevant. As students of literature we can apply this innovative vision to the analysis of literature, expanding our vision to include that, which on the surface appears to be mundane and trite, Trash. We can play with contemporary images and icons discovering what lies beneath the surface banality, the apparent triviality. And in so doing we cannot but alienate ourselves from that authoritative voice that prescribes instead of describes the meaning of art.



Web Sites

WebMusuem Paris
Site gives general information about Pop Art with biographies of an extensive list of pop artists.

The Andy Warhol Musuem

Site gives a virtual walking tour through the Warhol Musuem in Pittsburgh, PA. Musuem also has resources, Warhol films and paraphanelia.
**Of general interest.

Website for Adbusters Magazine 
Site provides critique of advertisements and advertising industry.
**Of interest for High School teachers.
(Note. Adbusters believe advertising industry corrupts/extorts/perverts cultural archetypes.)


Artforum, Summer’99,v.37,10,150(2). Making Mischief: Dada Invades New York.
    A good discussion oftrash art, a variation on the theme of pop art, as practiced by Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell, “You must take trash seriously, repeat the daily intercourse any human has with refuse and refusing: discarded thoughts, ideas, abandoned loves and objects, reality’s landfill (150)."

English Journal in Education. v.86,n8,p.24-28. Beevis and Butt-head: Two More White Males for the Canon by John Skretta
    An interesting discussion on the value of using popular television programming for discussion in the classroom.

Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism Sp.’99,161(1). The X-Files and the Aesthetics and Politics of Post by Douglas Kellner.
    Provactive discussion of emerging modernism (mixed genres, innovative aesthetics, and new ideologies) in the popular          television series X-Files.

Journal of Film and Video. Sum'97, v.49,n1-2,p.52-65.The Canon and Cultural Studies:Culture and Hierarchy in Gotham City by Guerric Debona.
    An allegorical study of the film Batman revealing the villians and victims of the canon. 


Whiting, Cecile. A Taste for Pop: Art, Gender and Consumer Culture. Cambridge Studies In American Visual Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
An intriguing book in its look at the popular designs of the products we buy from men’s ties to Lady Schick razors.


Britt, David. Modern Art: Impressionism to Post-Modernism. Thames and Hudson Ltd.:London 1974.

Lichtenstein, Roy. Roy Lichtenstein: Drawings and Prints. Chelsea House Pulishers: New York 1969.

Livingstone, Marco. Pop Art: A Continuing History. Harry H. Abrams Inc.: New York 1990.