Pop Art Movement – History, Artwork and Artists

Pop Art was an art movement that began in the 1950s in the United Kingdom, becoming a popular in the United States in the 1960s. It was a reaction to the preceding art movements such as Abstract Expressionism, which was essentially highly personal and philosophical, and to the elitism of both traditional and modernist “high art.”

Pop Art artists draw inspiration from the dynamic consumer culture, using and manipulating images from advertising, newspapers, comics, product labeling, television, and Hollywood movies.

The leading names who shaped the movement were Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Robert Rauschenberg, among others.

Notable Pop Art Artwork

Richard Hamilton, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, 1956, Kunsthalle Tübingen,  Tübingen, Germany

Roy Lichtenstein, Whaam!, 1963, Tate Modern, London, UK

Roy Lichtenstein, Drowning Girl, 1963, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, US

Robert Indiana, Love, 1966, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, US

Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958, Whitey Museum of American Art, New York City, NY, US

Jasper Johns, Target with Four Faces, 1955, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, US

Peter Blake, On the Balcony, 1955-57, Tate Modern, London, UK

Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, US

Andy Warhol, Gold Marilyn Monroe, 1962, Museum of Modern Art, New York

City, NY, US

Andy Warhol, Eight Elvises, 1963, Private Collection

Claes Oldenburg, Floor Burger, 1962, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY,US

Robert Rauschenbert, Retroactive I, 1964, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, US

Origins of Pop Art

After the World War II, American economy grew enormously and people were making and spending more money than in the previous decades. The manufacturing industry began to mass-produce everything and advertisers were urging consumers to buy and buy again. They now had a powerful tool at hand – television. The American dream felt closer to reach than ever before. It was in this context that Pop Art emerged.

The artists of the time felt that post-World War II art did not mirror the society shaped by the rising mass consumption economy. The movement first began in the 1950s in the UK led by artists who were part of the “Independent Group.” These artists like Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi to name a few, began to appropriate idealized images of the American leisurely lifestyle they found in popular magazines. Paolozzi’s collage “I was a Rich Man’s Plaything” from 1947, made from cuttings from American magazines and advertisements, is considered a groundbreaking piece of Pop Art. Appropriation is a practice that can be traced back to Cubist collage which involves taking pre-existing images and objects from their original context and recreating them with new meanings. In addition to collages, Pop Art artists practiced silk screen printing techniques, lithography, and used bright colors to imitate advertising appeals.

The term “Pop Art” is usually credited to the British art critic and curator Lawrence Alloway to point out that art has a basis in the popular culture of its time. As the decade progressed, American artists took the lead in the movement that would reach its peak in the 1960s. The main difference between British and American Pop Art is that British artists viewed American popular culture from a distance and therefore they were more referential and metaphorical in their approach to art, while American artists were inspired by the culture they were living every day. For example, for Andy Warhol art was a product just like Campbell’s soup cans.

Art for Everyone

Interested in portraying consumer culture and its powerful impact on contemporary life, Pop Art artists used images taken from glossy magazines, comic books, product labels and packaging, and television, not so much to criticize as to recognize the widespread presence of consumer spirit of the time. Besides, they felt that the dominant approaches to art were elitist and that current art had nothing to do with real life, so they decided to create art for the masses that would be universally acceptable, objective, easy to understand, and non-discriminatory. Popular art for everyone, as its name suggests. The use of everyday items as subjects for creating artworks and a clear anti-elitist position towards mainstream art connects Pop Art artists with the Dada movement current in the 1920s.

According to many art historians, Pop Art made a radical break from Modernism, which eventually resulted in “-ism” fading out. It helped shape Photo-Realism, Conceptualism, Neo-Pop Art, and many other art forms that make up what we now call contemporary art.

Notable Pop Art Artists

  • Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), Scottish
  • Peter Blake (1932-), British
  • Pauline Boty (1938-1966), British
  • David Hockney (1937-), British
  • James Rosenquist (1933-2017), American
  • Claes Oldenburg (1929-), Swedish
  • Andy Warhol (1928-1987), American
  • Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), American
  • Robert Indiana (1928-2018), American
  • Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), American

Related Art Terms

About Asja Nastasijevic, M.A.

Asja NASTASIJEVIC is an Art Historian and Art Writer living in Paris, France. She holds a MA degree in Art History from the University of Belgrade and an MA in Art & Cultural Management from the University of Turin. Over the years, she worked as an art gallery assistant, art writer, editor, and content creator for various art-related and design-related magazines, galleries, and online marketplaces. When not writing and researching, she leads art history tours in Paris and the Louvre. Her motto is: "Put all you are into the smallest thing you do." It is a verse from a poem by one of her favorite poets Fernando Pessoa.

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