Pop art was an artistic movement that represented a strong shift from the influence of the abstract expressionism. Pop art paintings brought an original form of making art by introducing techniques of commercial art and everyday life illustrations.
This movement first occurred in Great Britain in the late 1950s and it was meant to be a redefinition of the metaphysical gravity of the abstract expressionism. Pop art paintings were mainly characterized by the insertion of everyday life images of soup cans, comic strips, Coke bottles or even stuffed animals into the artistic expression. The expressed aim of the pop art paintings was to provide a meeting point for artists and public. Inserting commercial art symbols in their work, the artists intended to blur the boundaries between art and common people in order to make art ideas accessible for everyone.
The birth of this art movement during the 1950s-1960s wasn’t a coincidence. Artists were getting tired of the inwardness and opacity of the abstract expressionism; the American society (and the British one, but on a less extent) was enjoying deep changes in terms of economic revival after the constraints of the Second World War. Therefore, the artist community mocked the shallowness and the materialism of the Americans, employing symbols of mass culture (Coke cans, magazines or comic strips) in their pop art paintings.
The artists who had embraced this art style used different symbols: American flags (Jasper Johns), comic strips (Roy Lichtenstein) and soup cans (Andy Warhol) or stuffed animals (Robert Rauschenberg).
Pop art paintings also represented icons of the artists’ reaction against the dullness and complexity of the abstract expressionism. Abstract techniques were replaced with more accessible ones like humor or surface appearance. The central idea of this art movement was to express messages to the mass by transforming the ordinary things into art objects.
Although the pop art stream was very popular among the layman public, it was highly controversial among the art critics community. Some considered pop art paintings as cheap, tacky imitations of everyday life symbols; others regarded them as icons of the shallow American society at mid-century.
Nevertheless, this art movement represented a breath of vivid, fresh air in an art characterized until then by opacity and seriousness.