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

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  • Andy Warhol, 'Marilyn Diptych' 1962
    Andy Warhol
    Marilyn Diptych 1962
    © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Right Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London
  • Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 'I was a Rich Man's Plaything' 1947
    Sir Eduardo Paolozzi
    I was a Rich Man's Plaything 1947
    © The estate of Eduardo Paolozzi
  • Roy Lichtenstein, 'Whaam!' 1963
    Roy Lichtenstein
    Whaam! 1963
    Acrylic and oil on canvas
    © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein
  • Richard Hamilton, 'Hommage à Chrysler Corp.' 1957
    Richard Hamilton
    Hommage à Chrysler Corp. 1957
    Oil, metal foil and collage on wood
    unconfirmed: 1220 x 810 mm
    frame: 1479 x 1074 x 67 mm
    Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1995© The estate of Richard Hamilton
  • Claes Oldenburg, 'Lipsticks in Piccadilly Circus, London' 1966
    Claes Oldenburg
    Lipsticks in Piccadilly Circus, London 1966
    Mixed media on board
    unconfirmed: 254 x 203 mm
    Presented by Hannah Wilke 1972© Claes Oldenburg
  • Peter Blake, 'Tuesday' 1961
    Peter Blake
    Tuesday 1961
    Enamel, wood relief and collage on board
    support: 476 x 267 x 38 mm
    Presented by E.J. Power through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1974© Peter Blake 2002. All rights reserved, DACS
  • Patrick Caulfield, 'Sweet Bowl' 1967
    Patrick Caulfield
    Sweet Bowl 1967
    Screenprint on paper
    image: 559 x 914 mm
    Presented by Rose and Chris Prater through the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975© Patrick Caulfield. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2002
  • Allen Jones, 'Chair' 1969
    Allen Jones
    Chair 1969
    Painted plastic and mixed media
    object: 775 x 571 x 991 mm
    Purchased 1981 © Allen Jones
  • Jim Dine, 'Four Hearts' 1969
    Jim Dine
    Four Hearts 1969
    Screenprint on paper
    image: 324 x 318 mm
    Presented by Rose and Chris Prater through the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975© Jim Dine
  • Richard Smith, 'Piano' 1963
    Richard Smith
    Piano 1963
    Oil on canvas
    object: 1826 x 2772 x 1140 mm
    Purchased 1975© Richard Smith
  • Jim Dine, 'Tool Box 10' 1966
    Jim Dine
    Tool Box 10 1966
    Screenprint on paper
    image: 603 x 478 mm
    Presented by Rose and Chris Prater through the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975© Jim Dine

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.

Key artists

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).

American pop vs. British pop

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.

Andy Warhol

Self-Portrait 1967

Purchased 1971© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, NY and DACS, London 2009
Peter Blake, 'Self-Portrait with Badges' 1961
Peter Blake

Self-Portrait with Badges 1961 © Peter Blake 2002. All rights reserved, DACS

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.
Peter Blake

Watch Peter Blake in his London studio talk about American pop vs British pop and which artists influenced him and he pre-dated.

Further reading

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.

International pop

Pop art was never just a celebration of western consumer culture, but was often a subversive international language of protest. 

The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop
Read the online guide to Tate Modern’s 2015 exhibition and find out how different cultures and countries responded to pop art, from Latin America to Asia, and from Europe to the Middle East. The guide includes room texts, curatoral essay, artist biographies and interviews.

Pop Pills
Read curators Elsa Coustou and Flavia Frigeri’s bite-sized highlights of The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop.

French-born artist Nicola L created Red Coat in 1969, which was influenced by the socio-political upheavals and demonstrations of the 1960s. Created for various improvised performances in public spaces, the Red Coat is exemplary of Nicola L’s experimentation with presenting the human body as a conceptual piece of art.

Watch Red Coat travel around the world in the video below.

Think you know pop art?
This article looks at pop artists from around the globe who didn’t make the headlines. 

Parviz Tanavoli | TateShots
Watch Iranian artist Parviz Tanavoli discuss how he blended Persian traditions with the pop art movement.

Global pop symposium
Listen to the recordings from this symposium which explores pop beyond the mainstream, including talks on spiritual pop in the Middle East, pop architecture in the Soviet Bloc and transformations of pop art in Hungary.

Pop artists in focus

Roy Lichtenstein

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.

Tate Etc. article: Wow!
Discover how Lichtenstein made the iconic pop art work Whaam!

Artist Allen Jones on Lichtenstein
Read British pop artists Allen Jones’s account of first seeing Lichtenstein’s work.

Richard Hamilton

Richard Hamilton
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.

Pop Daddy
In this article Richard Hamilton discusses some of his early exhibitions.

Pop art in context

Curator Chris Stephens discusses what else was happening in the art world of the 1960s, when pop art was an established movement.

Other perspectives

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.’

The sound of Warhol playlist
Themes and philosophies from the Transmitting Andy Warhol exhibition at Tate Liverpool are interpreted through an evocative playlist by Jon Davies from Deep Hedonia

Pop art in detail

Roy Lichtenstein, 'Brushstroke' 1965
Roy Lichtenstein
Brushstroke 1965
Screenprint on paper
image: 565 x 724 mm
Purchased 1979© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

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.

Pop art for kids

These blog posts, games and activites are a fun and simple way to introduce surrealism to kids, whether in the classroom or at home.

From Andy Warhol to Pauline Boty, pop culture to pop crowds, this film is the best short introduction to pop art for kids.

Who is…?

Andy Warhol?
This blog post looks at pop art’s most famous artist and his iconic works.

Roy Lichtenstein?
If they like cartoon strips and comic strips, they’ll love Roy Lichtenstein. This piece looks at how Lichtenstein turned this imagery into pop art. 

Marta Minujín?
Encounter Marta Minujin and her Mayhem with your kids. 

Patrick Caulfield?
This introduction draws on Patrick Caulfield’s influences including other pop artists and surrealists.

Play and create

Dot Shop
This game transforms artworks from Tate’s collection and their own images into dotty pop art masterpieces.

Colour Colour
Turn Tate artworks into bold areas of flat colour, Warhol style.

Related glossary terms

Nouveau réalismeIndependent Group, political pop