American Pop Art

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Examine the mass media's influence on both the formal and iconographic features of American Pop Art. Centre your discussion on one or two examples each of the work of the following artists: Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, James Rosenquist.

Pop Art is one of the major art movements of the Twentieth Century. Characterized by themes and techniques drawn from mass culture such as advertising and comic books, pop art is widely interpreted as a reaction to the ideas of abstract expressionism which preceded Pop in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The decade of the 1960s was perhaps one of the most provocative, in terms of culture, politics and philosophy, of the 20th century. The amazing growth that transpired in America from the end of World War II through the cold war period of the 1950s resulted in a newly formed consumer culture. In the first years of the decade, Pop artists responded to this new commercialism and embraced consumerism as a fitting subject of their art. Hallmarks of Abstract Expressionism such as expression and gesture were replaced with cool, detached, mechanical illustrations of common objects, often based on advertising images. Basing their techniques, style and imagery on certain aspects of mass reproduction, media-derived imagery and consumer society, Pop artists began to erode the gulf between high art and low art, taking inspiration from advertising, pulp magazines, billboards, movies, television, comic strips, and shop-window displays. For instance, mass produced supermarket food is often the subject matter of its art including hamburgers, French fries, sandwiches, soup cans, soda and beer cans, and cakes.

Among Pop Art's famous examples are Tom Wesselman and his Great American Nude series, Andy Warhol's canonization of the Campbell's soup can, Roy Lichtenstein's blowups of comic strips, James Rosenquist and his juxtaposed image stories and Claes Oldenburg's ‘Store'. These artists believed that art had become too inward and unrealistic. They wanted their art to reflect the contemporary world of the mid-twentieth century city; they wanted to reflect a rapidly changing society. What's more, Pop Art investigates the areas of popular taste and kitsch that were previously considered outside the limits of fine art.

Andy Warhol was an avant-garde American artist, filmmaker, writer and social figure. He was one of the founders of the Pop Art movement in the United States in the 1950s and who is claimed to have brought Pop Art to the public eye. His screen prints of Coke bottles, Campbell's soup tins and film stars are part of the iconography of the 20th century.

Andy Warhol had a lifelong interest in movie stars which first surfaced in his art in 1962 when he begun working on portraits of Marilyn Monroe. Warhol attempted to keep his personal fascination with fame from showing through too clearly in his works, preferring to leave their meaning open to the interpretation of viewers. Warhol is best known for his extremely simple, larger-than-life, high contrast color paintings (silk-screen prints) of packaged consumer products, everyday objects, such as Campbell's Soup, poppy flowers and the banana and also for his stylized portraits of the twentieth century celebrity icons, such Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor.

Warhol's early paintings show images taken from cartoons and advertisements. However, cartoons and comics were already being used by fellow artist Roy Lichtenstein. Warhol wanted a distinguishing subject of his own and his friends suggested he should paint the things he loved the most. In his signature way of taking things literally, he painted images such as his famous cans of Campbell's soup, which he had for lunch most of his life. Yet, Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans, (1962, The Museum of Modern Art) can also represent other notions. It can depict the cheapness of mass culture. It can...
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