and Popular art.
“An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have.”
- Andy Warhol
But is it art? The popularised adage to the interrogation of much of today’s conceptual art seems most appropriate in assessing the body of art that Andy Warhol is most famous for. In a sense, the perpetual question was born out of a similar dissatisfaction that characterised the rise of Pop art. Born out of a culture of consumerism, Pop art turned the lens back, taking a reflective look and having an introspective reaction to the abstraction that preceded the consumer boom of the 1950s and 1960s in America.
Before delving into the vast topic of Pop art, it is important to understand the context from which it emerged. The rise of modern day America, the increase in mass production and as a result, mass consumerism played host to the rise of Popular Culture. Contrary to anything that had been experienced in the history of Western Culture before the 1950s, Popular Culture presented an alternative way of life. This essay will assess the origins and effects of Popular culture, and the ramifications of this new culture on the art world. Further, the similarities and differences between the art of popular culture and the abstract art that was seen during wartime will be discussed. Additionally, one of the most prominent Pop artists of this era, Andy Warhol, will be presented and discussed with a view to understand the basis, intention and inspiration of his art.
Popular culture was the result of a number of cultural and economic changes in 1950s America. Post war America was a nation full of energy and enthusiasm for the future. Wartime production had helped pull America’s economy out of the great Depression of the 1930s, and continued to grow after the war had ended. Heavy Industrialisation and corporatisation led to increasing wealth and therefore of spending power of young American people (Online). In this abundant society where jobs were plentiful and wages were high, the purchasing power of the people grew and Americans became eager spenders and consumers. As a result, the demand for consumables grew, whereas before it was only an elite few who were able to afford every day luxuries, the generation of the ‘American Dream’ catapulted demand for these consumables to incredibly high levels. (online: Virginia edu). As mass production replaced localized areas of production, America lost it’s system of barter and exchange and instead became increasingly dependant on wages, salaries and currencies (online: Virginia edu). Out of the culture of mass production of the 1950s, emerged a culture of advertising. This new form of advertising for the masses led to a manipulation by the dominant institutions of the needs and wants of the public (Julier, 51). Advertising made mass produced goods appear not only necessary, but extremely desirable (online: Virginia edu). These products became what society based their identity on. People began to gauge their personal taste and individuality on the items that they bought (Julier 49). Signs, what things looked like and how the public interpreted them therefore drove contemporary life (Julier, 49).
Popular Culture and the widespread mass production that was being experienced throughout America began to cause doubts about originality. The goods for purchase were supplied in the millions, by an unknown manufacturing process, and people began to question the idea of originality. These mass production cultures lead to a search for authenticity and originality (Taylor, 158). It was seen as inevitable that fakes and counterfeits would become the subject of contemporary art (Taylor 159). Thus, Pop art was born.
The most prominent modern art movement before Pop art was Abstract Expressionism. The abstract artists’ aim was to remove anything of visual stimulation...
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