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Art Movements in Art History - Introduction to Pop Art

Art Movements > Pop Art > Introduction to Pop Art

Introduction to Pop Art*

According to Lawrence Alloway, the term "Pop Art" (which he coined in London in the
1950s) was first used to designate the products of the mass media. Somewhere between
1954 and 1957 the term was appropriated by members of the Independent Group, a
multidisciplinary group who met in London under the auspices of the Institute of
Contemporary Arts, of which Alloway was director. Members of the Independent Group
were interested in extending aesthetic attention to the mass media and absorbing mass
media material within the context of fine art. The term "Pop Art" began to feature in their
discussions and, according to Alloway , it

"... involved an open attitude in which art was scattered among all of man's artifacts,
and could be situated anywhere. Hence the idea of a Fine Art/Pop Art continuum was
necessary. In place of an hierarchic esthetics keyed to define greatness and universality
and to separate High from Low art, a continuum was assumed which could
accommodate all forms of art, permanent and expendable, personal and collective,
autographic and autonomous ... . At the time it was recognised that Pop Art had an
affinity to the definitions of culture ... as all of society, and not, as art writers and
specialists prefer, as a treasury of privileged items."

It was only in 1961 when the term "Pop Art" was appropriated to describe the output of
American artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein that its usage became more
specific; according to Alloway it then began to designate an art that included
references to mass media sources.

This definition is, however, rather limited. Many artists who have been grouped under
the banner "Pop" are not necessarily investigating mass media sources themselves, such as
cartoons and advertisements, but rather modes of signification in the real world. Alloway
himself notes that a broad definition of Pop as an art about signs seems more
useful than the more narrow one of an art that uses commercial subject matter. All art, of
course, uses signs; but Pop Art is significant in that these signs become its subject and not,
simply, the means whereby it sets up communication with the viewer.

 

Next: Emergence of Pop Art in Britain >>


* Drawn from notes compiled by B. Schmahmann for the University of South Africa

 




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