Pop Art is difficult to define because artists of this genre used many new and different techniques to those used prior to the 1950’s when Pop Art first started to appear. But the one common theme that all Pop Art has is that it features items and images from popular culture.
Some of the most well-known artists of the Pop Art phenomenon, such as Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg, were born in the 1920’s which was a boom time in the USA with money to spare and jazz music starting to make it’s mark. But in 1929 the stock market crashed and the US entered a depression that lasted until the mid-1930’s. Perhaps the most famous of all pop artists, Andy Warhol, was born at the beginning of that depression.
So these artists grew up in a fast changing world that went from boom to bust to World War II in little over 10 years. By the time the war ended, they were still young and during the 1950s people again started to have some extra money available to spend on the endless stream of new products that were starting to appear.
And it was the design and advertising of these new products that the artists were commenting on, and influenced by, in a way that no previous generation of artists had been. They tried to use ordinary consumer items in their work to encourage people to view them differently. They also positioned common items in unusual ways to make people take notice of them.
Other common themes in Pop Art were comic books and the famous people of that era such as Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, who will be forever associated with Warhol’s work. Warhol used screen printing techniques for his work and usually made several copies of the same image.
But what the artists sought to highlight was the way famous people were treated as objects in the same way as products were in advertising with all sense of their individuality removed. Although many pop artists were unwilling to give meaning to their work, and even those who posed questions with their art, left those same questions unanswered. Jasper Johns, famous for his series of paintings showing the American flag, famously questioned whether his own work was art or just a flag.
So what are the characteristics of Pop Art?
Just as the world in which we live is endlessly varied, so Pop Art used a variety of techniques but the common characteristics that define works as Pop Art are as follows:
Graphic Style: Clearly defined shapes and colours with hard edges such as the Lichtenstein comic book styles and David Hockney’s works.
Funny and Lighthearted: Rejecting the rather serious approach of earlier artists.
Everyday Products and Brands: including foodstuffs, cars and images from advertising and films.
Collage: and also different techniques within one work.
No Perspective: Flat two-dimensional works are very common.
Mechanical Techniques: silk-screen printing was used to create different versions of the same image.