Pop Art was a major movement in the visual arts that marked a fundamental shift in the direction of modern culture. Like so many other artistic movements, Pop Art sought to challenge the status quo. It was an evolution away from postwar Abstract Expressionism
, reflecting a universal shift in attitude towards art. Pop Artists believed that the prevailing norms were self-indulgent and pretentious, and sought to create pieces that would stand in stark opposition to the establishment. It was a new approach to art that was extroverted and wildly optimistic. Unlike the other styles of art that projected negativity and shunned the modern world, Pop Art embraced and celebrated contemporary culture, introducing a new perspective to the world, and infusing an accessibility to art that made it instantly relevant and fiercely popular.
Pop Art first emerged in Great Britain in the mid-twentieth century. By the 1960s, the movement had made its way across the Atlantic to America, where it erupted in popularity. English-born art critic Lawrence Alloway first coined the term “Pop” when referring to images of mass media, advertising and consumer products. In England, the 1950s were a time of general optimism that followed a period of war-time rationing, giving rise to a consumer boom. Artists focused their attention upon familiar and commonplace images within popular culture. Artists largely drew from the imagery of mass culture, incorporating two-dimensional consumer images (soup cans, cereal boxes, images present in photography, film, and video) into their own art pieces. The epic was replaced with the everyday, and the mass-produced achieved the same significance as the unique.
Pop Artists approached their work as an opportunity to address the visual noise of the modern world—magazines, advertisements, and comics. They focused their attention on the current times and popular culture. By fusing the common and familiar with the contemporary, these artists made imagery understandable and accessible to the masses. Commercial culture was a playing field filled with raw material for artistic freedom. Renowned Pop Artists such as Andy Warhol
, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and James Rosenquist energized the community, and helped to return art to the public domain.
Many critics dismissed Pop Art as “low art,” simple-minded images that were an insult to the ideals of fine art, but there was a complexity and world of depth behind these seemingly simple images. Pop Art was a realism that thrust itself in the face of a society that craved tawdry, larger-than-life depictions, a society that was drawn to cartoon romance and tabloid scandal, and to that particular species of glamour. The Pop Artists embraced pop culture and its demands, and created an art that drew directly from sources in commercial mass-media in the new phenomenon of “popular culture.”