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Is Pop Art Celebration Or Critique Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2465 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Pop-art was an art movement that emerged in America and Britain in the mid 50s and culminated between 1960 and 1965. Pop art was a result of a post war era and a sudden influx of mass production and popular culture. Pop art included images from popular culture such as consumer goods, magazines and advertisements as opposed to more serious elitist culture art like abstract expressionism. It was used as a bridge between contemporary life and art, often using found images/objects and a tendency toward using mechanical rendering/production techniques.

In Britain:-

Independent group

In 1952, a collection of artists in London by the name of “the Independent Group” began to meet regularly to discuss topics such as the found object, science and technology and mass culture’s place in fine art. Members in the group were, Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton, architects Alison and Peter Smithson, and critics Lawrence Alloway and Reyner Banham. In the early 1950s Britain was still escaping the austerity of the post-war years, and the British citizens were dubious about American popular culture. Although the group was suspicious of the American commercial character, they were still enthusiastic and excited about the fruitful world popular culture seemed to promise for the future. The material, mainly in images they discussed at length were of that found in Western movies, comic books, science fiction, automobile design, billboards, and rock and roll music.

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Richard Hamilton

Richard Hamilton was a big name in pop art in Britain, with his famous collage “just what is it that makes todays homes so different, so appealing” which was produced for “ThisIsTomorrow”‘s catalogue. Richard was part of the Independent Group that had sensed post war culture would be democratically inclusive and accessible and argued that art should follow suit. The independent group also aimed toward removing the academia behind modern art such as high art like Rothko’s “light red over black” and toward a more figurative, unambiguous language of art portrayed in the transparent language of advertising and iconography. This new art didn’t need particularly skilled or difficult process’ to be produced and tried to link the realms of art and everyday life.

The interchange-ability between advertising and art allowed Richard to show viewers that modern art repeatedly celebrated physical pleasure and inspiration was often gathered from previous movements. Hamilton stated that this New art, should be: “Popular, transient, expendable, low cost, mass produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous and big business!” this subsequently laid down the path for the movement

Just What is it That Makes Todays Homes so Different, So Appealing?

In this piece Richard Hamilton used popular images and symbols as a gateway or library to explore the interior of a house of that time and to comment on the swift and important change in the way of everyday life. Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? Is so iconic because it was created during an era in which all people internationally and worldwide became leisure shoppers, watchers of television, drivers of cars, and “disposable” buyers. At the same time, the boundaries between old world civilizations and of international politics were disintegrated by capitalism; a few countries made the choice to adopt the trimmings of that economic system without inviting its basic values of competition, efficiency, legitimacy of profit, which all ultimately make the consumerist structure work and mature properly.

The travesty of Westernized ideas of an effective business conduct is interpreted in this collage by the excess of items obtained through conspicuous consumption. They are shown as symbols of leisure. And the observer is reminded of how quickly that people forget about the consequences of irresponsible spending, since the “buy, buy, buy” lifestyle continues at a continuingly faster rate, even after the nations of the world were warped as a result of the economic disasters in 1929. This is evident in the technological advancements that have permeated into this skewed interior, with a television playing an advertisement of a lady talking on the telephone, the vague cube-like recording device on the floor, the fanciness and glamour related to the theatre past the lounge’s window, and the ornament of a Ford hood bejewelled on the lampshade.

Apart from the subject matter related to financial history, Hamilton also recognises the presence of Communism portrayed as a crescent of a planet which also acts as the house’s ceiling. This segment of the globe is inconspicuously there, looming over and haunting the American homeowners with the vague signifier of all that was unfamiliar during the 1950s: communism. The reference to planets and space begins to attract attention to the informal “Space Race” between Russia and America, an important rivalry that would supposedly declare the more proficient country to be the symbolic leader of the world.

Modernity, material comfort, and desirability present in Hamilton’s labour were icons that undoubtedly have broadened the potential of Pop Art by promising an ideal kingdom of the imminent buyer’s paradise, while conveying a doubtful and ironic tone – articulating the mode of sheer parody. This piece is therefore not only a creative playing field aesthetically, but also a milestone in the history of the art world and in the context of social critique.

Eduardo Paolozzi – Dr. Pepper

Eduardo Paolozzi was – like Richard Hamilton – a member of the Independent Group, who brought a “l’art Brut” perspective to things, which means he brought an outsiders perspective, supposedly because of his connections to dada and surrealism.

This piece is made up of images from American magazines that he had obtained from American people in Paris. It is hard to understand why Paolozzi must’ve been sucked into the ‘exotic society’ portrayed in American magazines having been in poverty himself due to the Second World War. In “dr pepper” there are happy and healthy people surrounded by an abundance of food and automobiles, this all portraying a Wealthy life, with happiness being the key here.

Paolozzi wasn’t just attracted to the material value or message of consumerism or happiness. Paolozzi genuinely believed these images from advertisements to be artistically wealthy and an icon of the modern world. Paolozzi had once said in his opinion of American Popular images ‘where the event of selling tinned pears was transformed into multi-coloured dreams, where sensuality and virility combined to form, in our view, an art form more subtle and fulfilling than the orthodox choice of either the Tate Gallery or the Royal Academy’ (Eduardo Paolozzi, ‘Retrospective statements’ in Robbins, p.192).

This new outlook was soon to be embraced on an international scale as this work is actually a predecessor to Pop Art and wasn’t actually part of the movement. Paolozzi was trying to respond to dada-ism and surrealism although his work is almost ingenious in seeing the future of art.

In America:-

It seemed that the American dream was no longer defined by political freedom, but instead was measured by the number of commodities a citizen could acquire.

America was consuming popular magazines, cinema and television, pop music and rock ‘n’ roll, automobiles and domestic appliances in steadily increasing numbers. They were encouraged to spend by a vast advertising sector that deliberately interpreted consumption as a measure of one’s financial success and psychological wellbeing.

American Pop Art was a very unified, more organised movement than the British. There were more obvious common characteristics such as the contemporary imagery, the obscurity of surface, and bold, strong colours. As opposed to the British also, American artists had a tendency to be more ambiguous and less like the transparent communication through British pop art. Many of the American artists suggested with humour that art was like any other consumer product that could be marketed.

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Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol is probably the most famous pop artist and one of the most well-known artists in the west, with his work being placed on t-shirts and mugs and any other sort of merchandise. Known best for his Campbell soup cans, marylin Monroe prints and velvet underground album cover, in all of these pieces he’s used bold bright colours, quite a common character within American pop art. Most of, if not all of his Pop Art work was screen printed, this semi mechanized way of producing works further pronounced the new era mass production, Andy Warhol was so fond of this whole idea that he dubbed his studio “the Factory”.

Campbell’s Soup Cans

Warhol had a more creative and positive view on ordinary culture than most and felt that abstract expressionists had gone out of their way to discern the wonder of modernity. The Campbell Soup Cans as well as his other series were the ideal opportunity to express this view on modern culture. However, Warhol’s blank manner laboured to be empty of emotional content and unable to be commented on on a social level. In fact the work was designed to be with the least amount of emotion or individual expression.

According to Marcel Duchamp “if you take a Campbell’s Soup can and repeat it fifty times, you are not interested in the retinal image.” The depictions of the multiple cans are almost an abstraction in themselves with attention focused on the panorama rather than the individual cans and their details.it could be said that the symbolic identity of the multiple can depictions (freedom of choice, mass production etc.) became more important than the individual symbols. Warhol had a big interest in in factory like production in his early days of pop art which was mistaken by fine artists in general as their value system disagreed with mechanization.

To further resonate the message of consumerism and mass production behind his art along with the silk screen printing, naming his studio “the factory” and creating series, he also took on a pop persona as he and his work became more noticed by the media.He began to adopt the image of a teenager of the time, engaging himself in pop culture like rock shows, so much so that he produced an album cover for the velvet underground and had famous friends hangout in his “factory”.

I shop therefore I am – Barbara Kruger

‘I shop therefore I am’ is a print of a hand holding a red card with white lettering, by photographer Barbara Kruger.  It is a bold statement about Western culture and consumerism and is great in how implicates viewers by giving no clear notion of who is speaking, so it could be personal to her, personal from someone else, or relative to everyone, sucking the viewer in and making them think about the art on a more personal level.

The message behind the piece is saying that we don’t just shop for the things we need.  We shop to obtain an identity, persona and certain status and we do this so that we feel that we fit in and belong to a certain group in society.


Pop Art was evidently considerably different between America and Britain with the rest of Europe not quite producing fully fledged pop art works or taking the movement so seriously. Britain was quite clearly optimistic for the future of consumerism although it had undertones of concern and fear of the unknown as you would expect. In my opinion, the reason why the two natures were different is that America had evolved from the war economy before Britain so the advertisements being filtered through to Britain seemed alien and astounding, hence the large numbers of cut-outs being the primary base of pop art in Britain. America then acknowledged the movement and kept quite an “intellectual” spin on it all, with ambiguity present and narratives, part of what the British independent group was against, trying to keep the art open and objective rather than subjective and could be called ‘the peoples art’ an art for everyone that requires no preliminary knowledge or particular understanding.

The American pop art was a mixed movement with Andy Warhol producing the Campbell soup cans as a statement of mass production and consumerism but also as a statement that there is freedom and opportunity to choose what you want, almost as an echo of individuality which was very welcome and fantasized about. Although this is one of the more noticeable works of American pop art this should not be seen to represent all of American work, Barbara Kruger’s work is of a different style again. Kruger’s work was mainly made up of found black and white photographs with bold white lettering on a red background. Each of her works had a bold statement on the photograph, encouraging the viewer to think more about it, the statement, usually an ambiguous one would be based on society and topical. “I shop therefore I am” doesn’t say who it’s referring to and has a message behind it rather than being obvious and clear of its nature. This evidence amongst many other American works further perpetuates my opinion that American work is more ambiguous and therefore more intellectual rather than pure aesthetic information.

Therefore my answer to the question “is pop art a celebration or critique of consumer culture” is that in the beginnings consumerism was heavily welcomed and a great relief celebrated by many, but still with some sceptical artists stating that consuming was becoming a reliance and for obvious reasons people worry when they have to rely on things. Pop art in Britain was much more hedonistic, optimistic and transparent, probably as a notion of hope to cling on to as they emerged out from austerity. Pop art in America could be more pessimistic at times and narrated with hidden messages having to be prized from the works, but as with Britain I think the idea was still celebratory although there was a little more critique from America than Britain, this would only be expected though as America being much larger would have more of a variation in opinion.


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