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“Changes in Pop Art”

“Pop art” was a 20th century art movement that utilized consumerism and popular culture. Andy Warhol, for example, changed the imagery of everyday objects, as well as entertainment figures, through distorted shapes, sizes, and bold colors. As the decades passed, the style of “pop art” slightly changed as well. Later artists, such as Tom Wesselmann and Allen Jones presented their subject matter in a more shocking perspective. Women, and more specifically their bodies, were often the target of graphic manipulation. This sexual presentation was seen as pleasurable entertainment for male viewers, as much past artworks often did. This paper will attempt to explain the changes made during the “pop art” movement, in addition to the specific roles women played in pop art.

First, we must discuss what is “pop art”? “Pop art,” as defined by the Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, is a movement that emerged at the end of the 1950s as a reaction against the seriousness of abstract expressionism. (Encyclopedia.com) The term “Pop” stands for “popular art” or even for “pop bottle art, depending on the frequency with which such everyday objects appeared. The movement as a whole originated in England in the fifties and then naturally spread to the United States. This movement resulted as images were made popular through mass-media advertising and comic strips, and other everyday objects, such as pop bottles, beer cans, and other supermarket products. The images were then presented in bizarre combinations, distortions, or exaggerations in size. The original human-made object is always kept in its true form in some way. (Art Fundamentals, 305)

The introduction of American Pop art resulted in a major reaction against abstract expressionism, which had dominated painting in the United States during the later 1940s and 1950s. During the later 1950s, there were many indications that American painting would return to a new kind of figuration. Pop art brought art back to the material realization of everyday life, to popular culture in which ordinary people derived most of their visual language in what perceived to be the real world of shopping, movie stars, and car advertisements.

The term “pop art” was first used by Lawrence Alloway, a well-known critic of the art period. He used the term to describe those paintings that celebrated post-war consumerism and defied the psychology of Abstract Expressionism. This was thought of as an art that gave off a natural appeal to American artists, living in the midst of an industrial and commercial environment. Thus, the result was a more bold and aggressive display of art and advertising. While many artists duplicated beer bottles, soup cans, and comic strips in their artworks, other artists incorporated these objects in their actual artworks. In both cases of artworks, however, pop artists stressed “new” and “store-bought” in a shocking light, symbolizing their interpretations of the changes that took place in America during that time. Their vulger interpretations, which appeared in advertising, supermarkets, and television, explains why the pop art movement had such a large impact on commercial, graphic, and fashion design. (Russell, 54)

The “myths of everyday life” which has surfaced in consumer culture, especially in mass media, express the belief in progress, but also a fear of disaster. During the peak of pop art, there were a series of crucial events that took place. For example, the Vietnam War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, racial riots breaking out in cities everywhere, and addictions to sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, are just a few major events that were occurring during this same time period. (Osterwold, 11) Thus it is not surprising that the world of pop art emerged. Pop art was seen as a way to stand for the dreams, traumas, luxury, and poverty of the times. Pop art was just one way for people to recognize the good of the nation, and the need to support the consumer world.

One particular pop artist, Andy Warhol, was often recognized as the father of pop art. Warhol first introduced his own illusionary world of pop art to the public with his interpretation of the Campbell’s soup can. Never before has such an everyday object like a soup can been viewed as a work of art. This was a perfect example of how advertisements were not only seen as pleasing to the eye, but also played a large role in the advertising world. Warhol’s 100 Cans beats a repetitive visual tattoo whose power derives from the insistence of similar commercial imagery in the daily lives of the public. (Ocvirk, 305)

Like most things often do change, pop art also began to change, taking on a whole new creative perspective. Images of women began appearing more frequently in pop art. These new images portrayed women in a sexual manner the way that past societies have often depicted women, or the way they envisioned their women to look and behave.

This new imagery of women was again displayed through Warhol’s artwork. His series of Marilyns became not surprisingly popular after her death in 1962. The Twenty-Five Marilyns is a perfect representation of this new representational style of women.

As “pop art” developed more, so did the types of subject matter that became associated with “pop art.” The mid-1960s introduced artists such as Allen Jones who steered away from everyday objects as his focus of subject matter. He was notorious for outraging feminists, as his subject matter depicted women in scenes of bondage and subjugation. (Packer)

This new representation of women in “pop art” was shocking to the public eye. In past art styles, women’s bodies were often positioned in a way that was pleasing to the male viewer.

1. Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Pop art. 1994


2. Ocvirk, Otto G., et al. Art Fundamentals: Theory and Practice. Boston:

McGraw Hill, 1998.

3. Packer, William. “Tragi-comic Battle of the Sexes.” London: Financial Times,

September 27, 1999.

4. Perry, Gill. Gender and Art. Yale University Press, 1999. 229-239

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