Pretty much everyone in the past century has seen pop art, even if they don’t realize it yet. The Pop Art movement has been one of the most influential and prevalent art concepts, largely due to the fact that it’s meant to be easy to understand, consistently memorable, and inviting to people’s eyes.
It’s not meant to challenge people like some art is; rather, it’s meant to be as accessible and understandable as possible. Pop Art wears itself on its sleeve and invites anyone to appreciate it, no matter their education and general artisticness.
Low Art Vs. High Art
To understand the concept behind the Pop Art movement, you need to understand the difference between “High Art” and “Low Art.” Generally speaking, “High Art” is what you find on most of the walls of most museums and galleries. It’s provocative, full of depth, and likely has to be explained by a historian or artist to really understand and grasp the full depth and narrative of what the piece is trying to communicate.
The goal of High Art is not to make money, grow in popularity, or promote accessibility; its purpose is to expand the art form, to be singular and unique, and to strike people with awe over its creation. Think of the Mona Lisa, Starry Night, or The Scream. These aren’t the easiest pieces of art to look at, but the longer you look at them, the more depth and meaning you find, and the more you are rewarded by your time.
“Low Art,” on the other hand, is meant to be accessible, easy to remember, and simple to understand. Where High Art is generally made for aesthetic purposes, Low Art is made for functionality and usability. It’s an art form that thrives off of bright colors, memorable shapes, and easy-to-understand concepts.
Low Art lives on food packaging, billboards, advertisements, social media posts, and any place where the artist wants to grab your attention and focus it onto something else. In this way, Low Art is always around us, substantially more prevalent than High Art. The Pop Art Movement was a huge and intentional focus on Low Art throughout the mid-1950s through the late 1970s, bringing the art concept into the spotlight for countless artists all over the world.
History of the Pop Art Movement
The Pop Art movement emerged in the post-World War Two consumerism boom in America and Britain. It was largely based on the higher senses of optimism that had emerged due to the end of the period of war. It coincided with much of the commercialization of other art forms, such as music, film, and photography. It was a sort of reaction to much of the more impressionistic art that had been dominating most of the visual arts field for the past several decades and was based on many artists’ desires to bring more understanding and accessibility back into art.
Artists like Andy Warhol started making pieces that, instead of focusing on higher-level concepts and art styles, started looking for the aesthetic beauty and depth in the most commonplace and normal aspects of life in their time. They were looking for the depth, or rather, lack of depth inside of all of the graphic design and advertising that lived around them.
The primary artists in the Pop Art movement examined the predictability and repetitive nature of the tastes of most humans and capitalized on and satirized those concepts. Contemporary and colorful photography was made bright and neon, commonplace items were made into portraits, and even the darker and more secret parts of life became addressed through the Pop Art movement. Here are some of the highlights of the movement!
Campbell's Soup I, by Andy Warhol
Campbell’s Soup I a quintessential Pop Art movement piece that most people go back to. Instead of trying to make a piece of art that delved into the depths of human emotion, feeling, and beauty, Warhol chose to make a portrait of a soup can. His focus was likely on the fact that humans are inherently attracted to things that are simple, easy to understand, and accessible. This can is labeled clearly as to what it is, and there is little to no mystery behind what the object itself is.
Warhol’s focus was to address not the depth of art but rather the shallowness of it. The fact that he chose a soup can of all things shows that his intentionality was just to reveal to his viewers something that they already knew but had grown so accustomed to that they just forgot that it existed. This assessment of the ever-present elephant in the artistic room is one of the main inspirations behind the Pop Art Movement.
President Elect, by James Rosenquist
President Elect focuses on the consumerist nature of the world that people were living in in the 1960s. It very intentionally pulls together a few different subjects and photos that naturally draw people’s eyes in advertising and puts them together in a sort of collage, which parodies and satirizes the fact that most humans are always looking for bright colors, easy views, and shallow satisfaction.
Rosenquist created this work by going through magazines and finding some advertisements that stuck out to him as being very saccharine in nature. He then recreated those pieces together in a painting, pasting the different advertisements over themself.
This creates an effect that glues all of the advertisements together in a way that seems ingenuine, but that was the goal. Rosenquist wanted to explain and dive into the shallowness of humanity and show that people are truly very simple in the way that they examine the world around them and the things that they desire.
Marilyn Diptych, by Andy Warhol
One of Andy Warhol’s other primarily recognizable pieces of art was this screenprint of a repetitive headshot of Marilyn Monroe. At that time, Monroe was the most famous woman in the world and had just recently died of a drug overdose. Warhol wanted to create a tribute to the fact that despite her having been a massive pop culture icon, she was also a human with very real feelings and nature.
These two contrasting 25 by 25 boards of the same picture were an attempt to display the fact that people are multidimensional and deep, even when the pictures and media surrounding them might not be. It’s a very eerie photo to look at, and it was meant to be that way because it shows that the way that the world perceives its stars as commodities instead of people is by nature unhealthy and should be avoided.
The overall message is that the forward movement of time is always going to wash the color out of even the brightest ads and media, so people should view humanity with more of an eternal perspective. Warhol was trying to show that he believed that the temporary flashiness of advertising and shallowness are to be accepted and enjoyed, but not idolized.
Standard Station, by Ed Ruscha
Standard Station by Ed Ruscha is meant to stand as a symbol of commercialization and shallowness in the nature of advertising and functional art as a whole. The colors that the piece is composed with show a distinctive feeling of the western parts of the United States. The structural pieces of the art make it feel two-dimensional and shallow in the depth of field.
This is on purpose; the slight eeriness of the lack of depth of field creates a hard and very commercial feel. The idea was to make the painting almost feel like an advertisement and reveal to onlookers that they had been pulled into the world of commercial art. This is another example of addressing what people were attracted to in art and the fact that the majority of the time, it was very shallow and commercial subjects.
Using the word “Standard” prominently in the photo showed that despite people’s attempts to be unique, they were all falling into the relatively shallow plain that the advertising world had created.
The Pop Art movement was based on identifying the parts of humanity that most people don’t think about, either by instinct or by choice. It was meant to take the most comfortable and accessible styles of art within advertisements and commercially functioning art and make them uncomfortable and deep.
Through the use of very shallow depth of field, meanings, and creation styles, several artists revealed to the art community, as well as the rest of the world, that they could see through the shallowness and understand what was really going on behind the scenes. If you want to have any more modern forms of this art style on your walls, check out our Pop Culture selection of canvases, our Food Selection of canvases, or create your own personalized canvas!
Mona Lisa – Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo | The Louvre
Van Gogh Starry Night - The Painting and The Story | Van Gogh Gallery
The Scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch
Pop Art Movement Overview | TheArtStory
Campbell's Soup I: Tomato | Norton Simon Museum
James Rosenquist : A Retrospective | Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
'Marilyn Diptych', Andy Warhol, 1962 | The Tate