There is perhaps no more classically American artistic style than pop art. Although it has an arguably simpler basis than other movements, pop art was satirical and revolutionary in its time. It’s still an accessible, viable and active movement, and its main figures are among the world’s most celebrated artists.
Like many types of art, pop art is an amalgamation of various styles. It has the sense of rebellion prevalent in the Dada and neo-Dada movements, the spontaneity of surrealism and the conceptual openness of abstract expressionism. With that being said, pop art uses its own distinct aesthetic, often incorporating music icons, movie celebrities and political figures while borrowing design concepts from mass advertising campaigns.
It often satirically critiques social structures and consumerism, but the movement’s artists follow a number of other themes. In short, pop art has a complex, riveting style that has maintained its popularity and relevance more than half a century since the movement began.
The Collision of Advertising and Art
In order to understand older pieces of pop art with a modern eye, it’s helpful to know how the style originated Great Britain and the United States in the early 1950s. Artists in Great Britain began including American pop figures in their works as a sort of tribute to the relatively new nation’s growing economy and post-war optimism. American artists moved in a decidedly different direction, taking a more critical look at their own culture.
In the 1960s, pop art rose to new heights in terms of popularity and innovation. Roy Lichtenstein began re-imagining classic comic strips to create powerful, accessible works with hard-edged lines and simple colors.
Lichtenstein’s works often critiqued American society and life. His contemporary, Andy Warhol, brought notoriety and controversy to the movement with works like his Marilyn Monroe portraits, which attracted massive attention.Warhol was ubiquitous and enigmatic at the same time, designing album covers for the Velvet Underground while holding nonchalant exhibitions that changed the course of art history. His works were often simple, yet brutally honest and timelessly hip.
Modern Day Pop Art
While pop art peaked in popularity after Roy Lichtenstein’s comic exhibitions and Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, artists still use pop-influenced styles to create challenging and innovative works. The distinctive look of 1960s-era mass advertising has serious staying power.
In a sense, pop art has come full circle; while early pop artists wanted to parody advertising and consumerism by including popular figures in their works, many of their classic works have become subject matter for modern artists. There are hundreds of famous references to Warhol’s soup cans, for instance, and college students can buy Roy Lichtenstein posters or easily re-create his most famous works with a few filters in Adobe Photoshop. The style still has plenty of life in it, and it’s still a powerful force in modern art and graphic design.