1. The art world has always been shrouded in elitism. Mostly celebrating ‘high culture’, artwork historically has had little to no relation to the average person’s everyday life. In the 1950’s, however, an art movement came along that shattered this tradition. Pop art rejoiced in elements of mass culture, using imagery from popular advertisements, Hollywood films, comics, packaging and everyday objects to create pieces of work which rejected elitist high-brow art. In the words of pop artist Richard Hamilton, pop art is ‘transient, expendable, low cost, mass produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous’. Pop art emphasised the artists mechanical means of production and made reference to rendering techniques. It also commonly removed and isolated subject matter from its original context or combined it with unrelated material, linking pop art to the beginnings of surrealism. Most importantly, pop art did not care about being recognised as legitimate, high-brow, ‘real’ art, making it the perfect inspiration for low-brow art movements which still flourish today.

Pop art is bold, striking, hard to miss and easy to consume

Pop art emerged in Britain in the mid 50’s and in America in the late 50’s. Separated by the Atlantic, the two nations’ pop art movements had one thing in common: they both produced art about American society. The 1950’s and 60’s saw large economic growth in America, with a burgeoning consumerist society embracing the mass production of indispensable objects. Whilst American pop art examined this trend, Britain took a more academic approach to their commentary, with a large focus on parody and irony in their exploration of how American popular imagery was shaping peoples lives. This new artistic platform, which branded elite artistic judgement as irrelevant, was the perfect means to satirise American politics, celebrities and current affairs.

Often heralded the king of pop art is Roy Lichtenstein. His bold, colourful, comic strip style works epitomises the genre, using war imagery alongside parody. Equal in fame is Andy Warhol, creator of the iconic pop art pieces ‘Marilyn Diptych’ and ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’. Warhol used art to reshape the way celebrities, iconic figures and ordinary objects are visualised. Pop art, however, was not limited to the western world, and soon spread across the globe. The after effects of World War Two were in full swing, the rise of Communism was causing widespread fear, and conflict was raging in Vietnam. Pop artists worldwide took full advantage of the modern world’s state of turmoil, using their art to rethink themes such as war, politics and gender. Japanese artist Keiichi Tanaami used pop art to explore America’s invasion of Japan in his piece Crayon Angel, whilst Spanish artist Joan Rabascall’s Atomic Kiss addresses the looming threat of nuclear war. Pop art may look bright, cheery and simplistic, yet beneath the surface lies a deeper, darker insight into the anxieties of the post-war age.

pop art did not care about being recognised as legitimate, high-brow, ‘real’ art

Pop art’s radical rejection of artistic tradition has inspired an abundance of artistic movements to this day. Low brow, the 1970’s underground art movement which originated in Los Angeles, took its populist, surrealist and satirical roots from pop art. Similarly, the Chinese movement of political pop emerged in the 1980’s, combining western pop art and socialist realism to examine the turbulent social climate of China. Even photorealism, despite differing from pop art in its highly lifelike style, can be likened to pop art in how both movements responded to societies’ increasing abundance of photographic media. Pop art is bold, striking, hard to miss and easy to consume: its no wonder it remains one of the most recognisable and iconic artistic movements to date.

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