Pop Art is probably one of my favorite movements in art history but honestly it took me a while to come around to it. When I first saw pop art images of Mickey Mouse, Marylin Monroe and Campbell’s soup, I thought the artists had completely run out of ideas and were reduced to simply pulling artwork from what they had laying around in their cabinets or what they saw in the news that day. I think the fact that it seems so ordinary makes it easy to neglect how bold and revolutionary it was. Pop Artists were not the first to focus on the everyday, but they did take it to a new level. It was bolder and more aggressively stating that all art deserves to be viewed in a gallery context. Those little things we see and often look past like the soup can in our cabinets, those things are the stuff of life. They are the result of hard work from various people we will likely never meet and whose names we will likely never know, but the soup can has more relevance in my life today than most “important” historical figures.
The Pop Art Movement came about in the 1950s and continued throughout the 20th century. I would say it is still alive and well today though it is evolving and contemporary Pop Artists often combine aspects of different approaches. When I look at it in a historical lens, I would say that the roots of Pop Art came in the Dada Movement which embraced much more randomness and free associations. While a lot of Modern art was very intellectually driven and based on rational ways of coming to understand the world or the artist’s deep introspection, Pop Artists gravitated to the post-modern idea that there is no objective and universal understanding of the world. All of our ideas and perceptions and affected by personal experiences, cultural associations, the media framing and so on. Pop Art held up a mirror to the mass media and the mass produced objects that defined popular culture. In doing so it made art more accessible to everyone. While modern art may have made a lot of sense to snobs like me who have the luxury of time to sit around studying, it was too far removed from most people’s experiences and understandings of art. By focusing on popular culture, and I don’t mean popular in the sense that everyone likes it, but rather in the sense that it is well known, artists gave everyone a connection and an entry point for the discussion.