What is Pop Art?

Posted: August 31, 2012 in Editorials

Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe Prints

First, I’d like to apologize for the lack of a steady stream of articles in the recent days.  Things have gotten hectic but I will try to keep up a steadier rate of posts.

Anyways, today I was asked the following prompt, and although it does not only concern music, I figured I would post it because the subject intrigued me tremendously.

“Pop art, in its original form, was a polemic against elite views of art in which uniqueness is a metaphor of the aristocratic, and contemplation the only proper response to art.  In place of a hierarchal aesthetics keyed to define greatness and universality and to separate High from Low art a continuum was assumed, which could accommodate all forms of art, permanent and expendable, personal and collective, autographic and anonymous.’

The above quote was written without specific examples of evidence.  Discuss how this interpretaion of pop art could be proven and to what extent you agree/disagree with this statement.  Identify at least one original pop art example of your own.”

So without further ado, my answer:

The Pop Art movement was indeed an attack and a heavy-handed push away from traditional creative styles of artistic representation that advertised a somewhat pretentious, elitist, as Van Cagle wrote, era and lifestyle.  Andy Warhol is without doubt the most well known pop artist, though the genre of “pop-art” exists in many forms, including modern studio art, rock and roll and pop music as well as more modern music.  The key to pop art is that it is an ever-evolving art form that feeds off impatience with that which has already been done.

Mark Rothko’s “Red, Orange, Tan and Purple”

Often, when the more naïve museum-goer views a piece of modern art by an artist such as Mark Rothko, they think, “I could have done that.”  First of all, they couldn’t have.  Second of all, the main purpose of the modern art and pop art movements is not to create a beautiful, complex portrait, but merely to produce a unique piece of work that elicits a dramatic reaction from the viewer and expresses whatever subject the artist wishes to portray.  One of these “naïve folks,” as they have been called previously, cannot truly “do” what Rothko did because he has already produced this art.  The beauty of Rothko is that he was one of the first of his kind.  He popularized simplicity; he popularized filling a canvas with two blocks of color and shipping it off to the gallery.  In doing that, he swayed from the path of what had been previously recognized as good art and established a modern, pop style.

Willem DeKooning’s “Woman V”

Wilem DeKooning, another groundbreaking modern artist, famously captured figures and faces, unlike Rothko, and altered them almost to an unrecognizable point.  Whether or not one considers these paintings beautiful, (which many in fact do, people reacted to DeKooning’s work.  Many feminists were furious by his materializing and defacing self-respecting women with lines of paint, disfigured features and strange color choices.  But it was new! and that, is what was so important.

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can Prints

In any essay regarding pop art, one would be somewhat foolish not to discuss Andy Warhol, made famous by his alteration of a simple photograph, using various techniques including silk screening.  Two of his most famous pieces, a series of versions of a photograph of a Campbell’s Soup Can and a series off versions of an image of Marilyn Monroe, exemplify his true and complete abandonment of the pretentious elite’s view of “what fine art should be,” even more so than Rothko and DeKooning.  Warhol’s received such strong reactions because, firstly, they were simple.  All he did was change a common item.  If one were to break down that concept, it would be far, far, far less complex than Leonardo DaVinci’s techniques when he painted “The Mona Lisa or Vincent Van Gogh’s methods when he produced “The Starry Night.”  Some of the photographs Warhol “messed around with,” so to speak, were not even his original work.  That concept of altering another artist or journalist’s pieces and even replicating a non-artistic item was so new to society that Warhol was met with strong responses, which is exactly what the Pop Art Movement needs in order to thrive.

Elvis Presley, The King.

Nonetheless, Pop Art spans not only throughout the studio art spectrum, but even further, into the subject of music.  Until the mid 1900s, songs by artists like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, Jazz numbers and classical pieces constructed popular music charts mostly of easy-listening songs.  When Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley burst into the music scene, their music was shunned as “devil music,” and many adults accustomed to the older, more traditional ways were concerned for the youth.  Music continued to progress into a much louder spectrum during the British Invasion and in the 1970s when artists like Led Zeppelin, the Who and Black Sabbath began combining blues and even some jazz with heavily distorted guitars and low grueling riffs.

Radiohead’s groundbreaking “Kid A”

Regardless, even that style of music became overused by the year 2000 when Radiohead, a previously grunge and rock and roll group from England released their album Kid AKid A epitomizes all that is pop art in a perfect way.  The record strays from the familiar rock and roll genre with which Radiohead was previously associated and almost took rock music apart, giving the album a much more electronic sound.  A famous article from Rolling Stone Magazine begged the question, “Why did Radiohead have to kill Rock and Roll?”  But did they kill rock and roll?   They are still considered a rock band.  Thus, they did not kill the genre, though they did alter it in such a drastic way, reminiscent of Rothko, of DeKooning, of Warhol, without causing their removal from a popular area in popular culture.  They created a new style, but did not just run away from the old like previous pop artists.  Instead they infested the older musical work and proceeded to become one of the most respected artists of the 21st century.  That is what Pop Art is about: bring something new to the table with the hopes for a response and create something for further Pop Artists to work from.

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