Pop Art

(1950s-1970s)

Pop Art brings back the subject, but questions art as a commodity and art as a unique form. Due to the scale of some of these works, the artists are trying to poke fun at the idea that art prints can be bought and sold easily with no effort on the part of the artist, which is their criticism of Abstract Expressionist pieces. Pop Art has an everyday subject matter, relying on both art from the media and ordinary objects that one might come across everyday. It makes the distinctions between high and low art fade. Pop artists use traditional materials while questioning the art itself.

Characteristics:
-brings back the subject
-questions art as a commodity and as a unique form
-everyday subject matter
-breaks down the barriers between high and low art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works:

Pop Art:

Robert Rauschenberg, Canyon, 1959
Jasper Johns, Target with Four Faces, 1955
Roy Lichtenstein, Oh Jeff. . .I Love You Too, But, 1964
Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962

Robert Rauschenberg, Canyon, 1959, Combine Painting

-Combine painting: oil, pencil, paper, metal, photograph, fabric, wood on canvas, plus buttons, mirror, stuffed eagle, pillow tied with cord, and paint tube
-Art of Assemblage = an alternative/reaction to Abstract Expressionism, which tried to move beyond its tired formulas into new and unexplored terrain
-interested in breaking down the barriers between art and the everyday world (tries to fill the gap between the two), which is expressed in this work of “combine,” which chaotically mixed conventional artistic materials with a wide variety of ingredients gathered from the urban environment (everyday objects); he focused art at middle to low class people – continues to break down the bonds between high and low art
-within the piece we can see family photographs (including his son), public imagery (the Statue of Liberty), political posters and items salvaged from the trash
-the rich disorder challenges the viewer to make sense of it; Rauschenberg meant his work to be open to various readings, so he assembled material that each viewer might interpret differently; for example, one might be able to see the Statue of Liberty as a symbolic invitation to interpret the work freely OR perhaps, covered as it is with paint applied in the manner of action painting, it symbolizes the distinctively American style
-art seemed sometimes beyond his control with its iconographic references as well as formal disarray
-he cheerfully accepted the chaos and unpredictability of modern urban experience and tried to find artistic metaphors in it
-the subject has returned from Abstract Expressionism, but Rauschenberg questions whether art can be a commodity – this piece can’t be bought or sold because of its large size

Jasper Johns, Target with Four Faces, 1955, Assemblage

-Assemblage: encaustic on newspaper and cloth over canvas, surmounted by four tinted plaster faces in wood box with hinged front; overall, with box open
-Art of Assemblage = an alternative/reaction to Abstract Expressionism, which tried to move beyond its tired formulas into new and unexplored terrain
-unlike Rauschenberg’s works, Johns’s are controlled, emotionally cool and highly cerebral
-inspired by the work of Duchamp; Johns produced conceptually puzzling works that seemed to bear on issues raised in contemporary art (questioning and pushing the envelope of the definition of art)
-because Pop Art brought back the subject in painting, when Abstract Expressionists took it away, Johns selected objects that people saw everyday but never really looked at – interested in taking everyday symbols and making them the symbols of his art (for example, flags, #s, and a target (in this case))
-although Johns went against the general Expressionist idea of taking away the subject, he did however use the same paint ideas as these artists by selecting more rich and tough paint that can be seen by the eye
-the image also raises thorny questions about the difference between representation and abstraction – the target = a representation, but that is flat, whereas two-dimensional representational art usually creates the illusion of three-dimensional space – the target therefore occupies a troubling middle ground between the two kinds of painting then struggling for dominance in American art
-psychological dimension – provided him with a way to cover certain personal anxieties and fears, some of which can be vaguely discerned in the collage materials partially buried beneath the thick encaustic paint
-for example, in the lower left there is the outline of a lone man in a trench coat; Johns’s sense of loneliness and emptiness is perhaps also evident in the faces at the top of the work, which have been cut off at eye-level, a move that both depersonalizes them and prevents them from connection with the viewer – the faces are as blank and neutral as the target below; one theory is that Johns was a homosexual in the homophobic climate of postwar New York, and felt like a target

Roy Lichtenstein, Oh Jeff. . .I Love You Too, But, 1964, Oil and Magna on Canvas

-Lichtenstein had no formal training
-influenced by Picasso’s blue and rose periods
-taking the everyday object of the comic strip and creating art out of it
-his art went through different stages: cubism, abstract expressionism, etc. – best known for his pop art pieces
-inspired by his son who wanted him to copy a picture of Mickey Mouse
-among the first American artists to accept the look as well as the subjects of popular culture – most of his famous works were based on war and romantic comic books (like this one)
-made changes to the color and form from the source material; he said that a cartoonist depicts, which he unifies the image; he tightened, clarified and strengthened the final image – created his own pieces
-many of the paintings (like this one) retain a sense of the cartoon plots they draw on; this work compresses into a single frame the generic romance-comic story line, in which two people fall in love, face some sort of crisis, or “but,” that temporarily threatens their relationship, then live happily ever after
-Lichtenstein reminds us that this plot is only an adolescent fiction: real-life relationships like his own marriage, then in the process of dissolving, end, as here, with the “but”
-composition: flat primary colors, dark lines (of the classic comic book strip), benday dots – combine two or more small dots to form colors, shading and optical illusions (~ graphic design) – drawn from advertisements and cartoons – dots similar to the pointillism of Seurat
-his magna paints could be mixed with turpentine to create a flat finish (to enhance the work’s similarity to a comic strip)

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962, Oil, Acrylic, and Silk Screen on Enamel on Canvas

-masked personal concerns behind the impersonal veneer of American popular imagery
-Warhol assumed that all Pop artists shared his affirmative view of ordinary people – Pop artists did images that anybody walking down Broadway could recognize in a split second (all the great modern things that the Abstract Expressionists tried so hard not to notice at all)
-ordinary into art / deconstructs the idea of traditional art / monotony in life is mimicked in the repetition of the picture
-influenced by the work of Johns and Rauschenberg
-drawing on popular and commercial culture was more than a careerist move, however; it also allowed him to celebrate the middle-class values he absorbed growing up in Pittsburgh during the Great Depression – seen here because Warhol turned from conventional painting to the assembly-line technique of silk-screening photo-images onto canvas (mass production)
-Warhol was fascinated by movie starts such as Marilyn Monroe, whose persona became more compelling after his suicide, the event that prompted Warhol to begin painting her
-the strip of pictures in this work suggests the sequential images of film, the medium that made Monroe famous
-the transition from color to black and white to almost nothing is meant to illustrate her life and then finally to her death
-the face Warhol portrays is not that of Monroe the person but of Monroe the star, since Warhol was interested in her public mask, not in her personality or character – his works, like the works of other Pop Artists tried to break down or make people reconsider art and people as commodities (reaction against Expressionists who received fame for merely signing their name to a piece of work that one of their assistants could have easily created) – the idea of objectification and people/art as commodities is further pushed by the fact the picture was a publicity shot that could go in any number of magazines and that it was repeated many times making Monroe seem like a product (deconstructs the idea of art being unique) – TV itself = a homogenization of information where everything is like everything else – nothing is sacred (by putting Monroe on the diptych, a traditionally religious item)
-Warhol uses traditional art materials, while calling into question the art itself
-may have borrowed the diptych format from the icons of Christian saints he recalled from the Byzantine Catholic church he attended as a youth; by symbolically treating the star like a saint, Warhol shed light on his own fascination with fame – not only does fame bring wealth and transform the ordinary into the beautiful (Warhol considered himself ugly), it also confers, as does holiness for a saint, a kind of immortality (Warhol considers the idea of the celebrity)