Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s in America and Britain, drawing inspiration from sources in popular and commercial culture such as advertising, Hollywood movies and pop music. Key pop artists include Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake and David Hockney
- Introduction to the pop art movement
- American vs. British pop art
- Pop art works in focus
- Pop art in context
- Other perspectives on pop art
- Pop art in detail
Emerging in the mid 1950s in Britain and late 1950s in America, pop art reached its peak in the 1960s. It began as a revolt against the dominant approaches to art and culture and traditional views on what art should be. Young artists felt that what they were taught at art school and what they saw in museums did not have anything to do with their lives or the things they saw around them every day. Instead they turned to sources such as Hollywood movies, advertising, product packaging, pop music and comic books for their imagery.
Actor Alan Cumming provides a pithy introduction to pop art and its leading artists in America and Britain as he whips through pop art’s history and key features in this video, from Tate’s Unlock Art series.
Characteristics and critical response
In 1957 pop artist Richard Hamilton listed the ‘characteristics of pop art’ in a letter to his friends the architects Peter and Alison Smithson:
Pop Art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business
Modernist critics were horrified by the pop artists’ use of such ‘low’ subject matter and by their apparently uncritical treatment of it. In fact pop both took art into new areas of subject matter and developed new ways of presenting it in art and can be seen as one of the first manifestations of postmodernism.
Chief pop artists in America were Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol; in Britain, Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Allen Jones, and Eduardo Paolozzi. In Europe a similar movement was called nouveau réalisme (new realism).
Although they were inspired by similar subject matter, British pop is often seen as distinctive from American pop.
Early pop art in Britain was fuelled by American popular culture viewed from a distance, while the American artists were inspired by what they saw and experienced living within that culture.
In the United States, pop style was a return to representational art (art that depicted the visual world in a recognisable way) and the use of hard edges and distinct forms after the painterly looseness of abstract expressionism. By using impersonal, mundane imagery, pop artists also wanted to move away from the emphasis on personal feelings and personal symbolism that characterised abstract expressionism.
In Britain, the movement was more academic in its approach. While employing irony and parody, it focused more on what American popular imagery represented, and its power in manipulating people’s lifestyles. The 1950s art group The Independent Group (IG), is regarded as the precursor to the British Pop art movement.
It certaily wasn’t of interest to the American art world to admit that British pop art was as important as it later transpired to be.
Watch Peter Blake in his London studio talk about American pop vs British pop and which artists influenced him and he pre-dated.
So you think you know Andy Warhol?
Learn some facts about Andy Warhol, from the reason behind why he painted those famous soup cans to his collaboration with The Velvet Underground.
Lichtenstein: A Retrospective
This exhibition, on display at Tate Modern in 2013, was a retrospective of one of the great American pop art artists of the twentieth century. Read the room guide and find our abour works on display.
Watch Iria Candela co-curator of the 2013 Tate Modern exhibition Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, explore Lichtenstein’s works up close.
Diagram of an Artist: Roy Lichtenstein
An intimate portrait of the artist created from archival film footage of Lichtenstein at home and at work in his studio, as well as interviews with his wife Dorothy and friend Frederic Tuten.
Artist Allen Jones on Lichtenstein
Read British pop artists Allen Jones’s account of first seeing Lichtenstein’s work.
Widely regarded as a founding figure of pop art, explore the work of Richard Hamilton in the exhibition guide for this major 2014 Tate Modern exhibition.
My teacher, Richard Hamilton
As well as being an important artist, Richard Hamilton was an influential teacher – find out why in this article by one of his former students.
Designer Peter Saville tells us why Hamilton’s pop artwork Toaster became the blueprint for his career.
In this article Richard Hamilton discusses some of his early exhibitions.
Curator Chris Stephens discusses what else was happening in the art world of the 1960s, when pop art was an established movement.
Design duo Preen on David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash
Fashion designers Preem take us through their Resort collection 2014, inspired by Hockney’s A Bigger Splash.
Tate Shots: Allen Jones
In this video British pop artist Allen Jones, best known for his sexually provocative sculptures like Chair 1969, proposes that ‘the role of art is to be of its time’ and explains how his sculptures ‘were made very much to offend the accepted canons of what fine art might be’.
You can kiss a Lichtenstein, but you can’t kiss us
America is often seen as the home of pop art, this Tate Etc. essay examines European pop art.
Pop Life: Art in a Material World
Explore the legacy of pop art in the work of later artists influenced by its ideas and imagery. This 2009 Tate Liverpool exhibition examined how artists since the 1980s have cultivated their public persona as a product, and conjured a dazzling mix of media, commerce and glamour to build their own ‘brands.’
Warhol: From a to b and back again
Video recordings of a series of conferences looking at Warhol’s work.
Lichtenstein and Pop Study Day
Audio recordings for a study day which explored the meaning of pop in the US and UK and its legacy for contemporary art and culture.