Term Paper: American Arts

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Art

Pop Art: An aesthetic and historical overview

An image of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor -- or simply the Campbell's Soup can. Repeated over and over again. Andy Warhol argued that through the witnessing of such repetition, which replicated yet heightened the sensation of seeing and consuming such works in daily life, over and over again, 'the better and emptier you feel.' But how can encouraging such sensations of emptiness be equated with art? Before the evolution of the Pop Art movement, headed by Andy Warhol, few critics would see such images of celebrities and commercial artifacts as worthy of hanging in a museum. But Pop Art changed not simply the look of modern art, but also what was said to constitute great or high art in general. "The repetition and familiarity of endless stars' faces "(Liz, Jackie, Marilyn, Marlon, and the rest) speaks eloquently about the condition of image overload in a media saturated culture" (Hughes 1997). By realizing how empty mass visions are in a museum, the viewer becomes more self-critical and self-reflexive in his or her own life.

Despite its association with Warhol, Pop Art as a movement actually began in Great Britain. Richard Hamilton's work, "Just What Is it that Makes Today's Home so Different, so Appealing?" is widely credited as the harbinger of the movement. (Biddington 2008). Hamilton later said: "The idea was that there were certain things that were new in our visual environment, such as cinema, the jukebox, Marilyn Monroe and comics. All these images from popular culture contrasted with the way we saw things that could be informed by straight - forward optical experience" ("Pop Daddy," Tate Magazine, 2008). Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, some of the first Pop artists in America, were also inspired by Hamilton's work to use the American flag and beer cans in their paintings, prints, and collages (Biddington 2008).

The reason that Great Britain gave birth to the Pop Art aesthetic is that Britain had been particularly hard-hit by the effects of World War II, because of the Blitz and the limitations placed upon consumerism and consumption due to rationing. The 1950s in England saw an unprecedented explosion of interest in the new -- new things to buy, new things to build. This spawned an interest amongst artists "in the images of mass media, advertising, comics and consumer products," both in a spirit of delight as well as a spirit of criticism (Shearer 1999). Pop Art was also fueled by the new youth culture of the era, and the music and fashion aesthetic of 'Swinging' London.

However, some argue that the movement was essentially taken over by American artists, who proved particularly responsive to its distaste for Abstract Expressionism. Later British artists associated with the movement, such as David Hockey, insisted that they were not strictly Pop Artists, even when associated with Warhol and company in the media (Lucie-Smith 199). To those who opposed Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art initially had a reactionary appeal because it was far more representational, and "favored figural imagery and the reproduction of everyday objects, such as Campbell Soup cans, comic strips and advertisements. The movement eliminated distinctions between 'good' and 'bad' taste and between fine art and commercial art techniques (Biddington 2008).

It comes as little surprise that the artist most famously associated with Pop Art, Andy Warhol, began as a commercial illustrator for advertisements. Warhol took the art world by storm with his 32 Campbell's Soup Cans, 1961-62. They were both a parody and a pastiche of modern culture, a place "where most people experience most things at second or third hand through TV and print, through images that become banal and disassociated by repeated again and again and again, there is role for affectless art"(Hughes 1997). Warhol extended this idea "by using silk screen, and not bothering to clean up the imperfections of the print: those slips of the screen, uneven inkings of the roller, and general graininess. What they suggested was not the humanizing touch of the hand but the pervasiveness of routine error and of entropy" (Hughes 1997). The soup cans and celebrity faces were made to look sloppy, in short, like an advertisement; they were not a fine artist's rendition of a pop culture artifact.

The Warhol exhibit of Campbell's Soup was so unsettling because looking at Pop Art like Warhol's was not looking into the heart of the artist, but looking into a mirror, a mirror of culture in which the spectator could gaze at him or herself, with all modern culture's sameness, carelessness, and vacuity. Thus Warhol's work said a great deal about not just modern culture, but the moment of art during the 1960. The era of the passionate artist, full of intensity and feeling was at an end. "Earlier artists, like Monet, had painted the same motif in series in order to display minute discriminations of perception, the shift of light and color form hour to hour on a haystack, and how these could be recorded by the subtlety of eye and hand. Warhol's thirty-two soup cans are about nothing of the kind. They are about sameness (though with different labels): same brand, same size, same paint surface, same fame as product. They mimic the condition of mass advertising, out of which his sensibility had grown" (Hughes 1997).

Not all of Pop Art was a break with what had occurred before. For example, some have seen parallels of the art of Jasper Johns with that of the French post-impressionist Cezanne. His works "articulate matter on a surface so that it becomes an objective correlative of sensations such as, say, looking without focusing, looking fixedly, looking out of windows, looking into darkness, seeing things grow, seeing them sicken, seeing the passing of a day, feeling threatened, feeling nothing, feeling elated, feeling tears prick the back of one's eyes. Marks of varying tempo, weight and direction caress and bruise and elaborate and disrupt and erode the familiar forms of everyday emblems (Sylvester 1997). This comparison may seem jarring, but like Cezanne, it could be argued, Johns frequently uses banal images -- like an American flag, a parallel with the still lives of the Post-Impressionist, to "caress and bruise and elaborate and disrupt and erode the familiar forms of everyday objects - apples, ginger-jars, jugs, etc....Johns and Cezanne both reconcile a free handling of often substantial paint...with a use of severe, often geometric shapes...conjoining solemnity and wit. And then the melancholy conveyed by his marks has the stoicism of Cezanne's" (Sylvester 1997).

In the 1970s, Warhol himself became more and more a kind of personal artifact of popular culture, more interested in media celebrity than refining his art work like Johns, who added complexity and depth to his earlier works. Warhol became particularly interested in the expressive potential of film -- and the publicity it garnered. His early death cut short any innovation that he may have embarked upon after the Studio 54 phase of his career ended. But other Pop Art-affiliated artists, like David Hockney have continued their work. Hockney's pastiches were often more historically grounded than the Pop Artists such as his modern rendition of Hogarth's "Rake's Progress."

But Hockney said that the work was inspired, not by the original British etching so much as his American experiences. It is noteworthy that even the earliest exemplars of popular art, such as Richard Hamilton, often used American iconography -- Americanness had become associated with consumerism and popular culture even internationally (Lucie-Smith 1999). Hockney, after his first visit to New York, was particularly taken by Warhol's style, and even bleached his own hair for a time. Later he said the Los Angeles lifestyle and landscape were central to the evolution of his work. "There were other important changes in his work as well: he started using… [END OF PREVIEW]

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