A Brief History of Pop Art

Pop art started in the USA during the earlier period of the 1960’s. But it was already making its presence felt in the late fifties. Pop art was basically an art movement which aimed to replace the abstract mode of artistic expression with messages that are easier to understand. The pioneers of this art movement were Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. The boom of this art movement or phenomenon mainly happened in New York City. The initiators of Pop art believed that the metaphysical complexities of abstract art are already out of tune as times and people had become different. As its followers believed in the power of easy to recognize images of common items, pop art introduced new objects such as flags, maps and targets or stuffed animals and rubber tires on paintings. Irony, sarcasm, and mockery were the favorite aspects of this art movement. Pop art in many ways was a form of rebellion to the dictates of traditional expressionism. According to pop art, confining ourselves to the old rules of the arts can make us stagnant as they fit only with the old era.

Some of the known advocates of this new artistic movement were Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. They shocked the painting world with their works that courageously introduced pop culture symbols such as comic strips, advertisements, and media images. Pop art was not just a far cry from the traditional rules on visual expression. It was in itself a slap in the face to the dictates of abstract painting style. Because the public could easily relate to its features, pop art gained the appreciation and support of many art critic groups. But in spite of that traditional abstract expressionism continued to flourish as it is the respected root of classic art. As they say, nothing beats the original. As pop art maintained its mockery activities, it did not reduce the popularity of abstract expressionism.

As abstract expressionism prevailed, pop art also continued to make its presence felt. The rivalry between these two styles resulted in the establishment of two new schools of abstraction: minimalist art and color-field painting. Minimalist art reduced art to its bare elements in reaction to the flamboyance of abstract expressionism. Frequently criticized for being too unapproachable, minimalist art has also been celebrated for its unprecedented immediacy. It attains this immediacy through abstract form, absence of decorative detail, and emphasis on geometry. On the other hand, color-field artists moved toward a more impersonal and austerely intellectual aesthetic. In their works they dealt with what they considered to be the fundamental formal elements of abstract painting. These elements are pure, unmodulated areas of color, flat and two-dimensional space, monumental scale, and the varying shape of the canvas itself.

Pop art and abstract expressionism engaged in a somewhat bitter rivalry in the American sixties. These two artistic styles struggled to get hold of the public’s support. While abstract expressionism tried to keep its old tradition and rules, pop art considered its rival an elitist approach that influenced America’s consumer society.