Unit 3: Pop Art
The beginning of Pop Art as an artistic movement is often pegged to the British artist Richard Hamilton’s 1956 collage Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Home’s So Different, So Appealing? so thats where I want to start our class today.
What should be immediately apparent is that this piece looks nothing like the Abstract Expressionist work we studied last week. Instead of asking the viewer to stare for a long time to find meaning in the work, it tries to pop out and grab our attention. Instead of being about one artist’s personal hand, it is a collaged mixture of photographs taken from many sources. Instead of trying to reach deep and timeless truths about the human condition, it is irreverent and humorous and makes use of fashion and cultural references.
So, what was it that makes these pop artists “So Different, So Appealing”"? Instead of slideshows this week, I’ve put together a collage of my own, of videos of artists talking about their own work. We start with a little background into the Black Mountain College, happenings, and the work of John Cage, a musician and composer who used chance to structure musical compositions. His piece 4’33″ is a performance where a pianist sits at a piano for four minutes and forty three seconds without playing anything. The background noise in the auditorium during that time is what he considers the music of the piece. Inspired by this work, early pop artists began to bring ideas such as chance and performance into the visual arts.
We also look at our local fathers of Pop, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Both of these artists, whose careers began in New York in the 1950s, show us a style of work that breaks with many of the basic premises of Abstract Expressionism. Yet they also exhibit a quality of painterly expression, which shows they were paying attention to lessons learned in recent abstract painting.
Now that you know a little about Greenberg and his drive to push every artistic medium back to is own roots, you can imagine that performance opened up possibilities for artists such as Rauschenberg and Johns. Possibilities which fit outside of the formalist, non-representational work that was receiving most of the attention. Contrary to Greenberg’s wish for each medium to be isolated, we see pieces with representation and narrative, paintings which are also sculptures, sculptures which also serve as backdrops for performance. Artists like Roy Lichtenstein also blur the boundary between artworks and comic books, and Claes Oldenburg shows us that even a BLT sandwich is a worthy subject for an artist.
Often a distinction arises between the critical nature of British pop art, and the American Pop Art’s unapologetic embrace of consumer culture. But let’s not be too broad in this generalization, as the underlying unease we see in the Abstract Expressionists also shows up in pieces like the giant F-111 by James Rosenquist, which features a young child blissfully having her hair done at a beauty salon, while a nuclear mushroom cloud erupts in the background, or Andy Warhol’s pieces electric chairs and car accidents from his disaster series.
By repeating an image over and over again, Warhol distances us from any emotional content of the image, and brings it into the realm of commercialism and mass production. Our reading this week focuses on Warhol’s use of machine-like repetition.
Finally we look at Pop arts cousin, Super realism. The last videos present artists Chuck Close and Duane Hanson in their quest to make paintings that looks like photographs, and sculptures that look like they could move.
This week we’ll try running the discussion forum on this page. Please answer in the comments below:
We have seen two very different art styles now, Abstract Expressionist and Pop art. There is no right answer to this question, but I’m curious to hear about what you observe and how you guys feel: Do you think the art you see being made today is more like AbEx or more like Pop? Give an example. You can pull from whatever it is you see in your life that you think of as art. As one student asked, “What we see on a daily basis (school, work, travels) , museums, the internet?” To all of these, Yes.