Week 6 Discussions

Pop Art Remix- Jess Steele
Fifty years following the anniversary of //Breakfast At Tiffany’s//, a French twist, black dress, pearls, and oversized sunglasses spur beyonce.jpgcountless associations to the “iconic myth” (Honnef, Pop Art, 84) of Audrey Hepburn and her endless hybrid forms. Hepburn’s repetition in pop art and pop culture appear in: “high” and “low” art, commercial media & goods [see Gap commercial, book cover], film, music [see Beyonce video], and an endless parade of images and media, creating a “constantly accruing” “cultural encyclopedia” “always already happening and always reconfiguring codes and symbolic associations” of the actress and her films (Irvine, “cultural encyclopedia”). As evidence, simply Google “Audrey Hepburn” and “Pop Art” – your results will rival remixes of Warhol’s Marilyn prints.

Contrasted to Marilyn’s “iconic myth(s)”, however, Hepburn’s representations in pop art network to perhaps, an even greater number of associations that, today, seem almost disengaged from the original actress. Hepburn’s “cultural encyclopedia” entry would most likely contain an entire brand culture that connotes a “timeless” “classic” lifestyle. Reproduced through the popularized portraits of a pop art Hepburn, these images of the actress have become mainstream and commercialized to the point one might argue the “art” of “pop art” has been lost in its failure to change “the level of our perception” (Barthes, “That Old Thing, Art”). In fact, you can even "factory" produce your own Aubrey "pop art" online here.
As reappropriations of Hepburn continue, however, it is interesting to see pop art representations turn pop art out of pop art. As the original Wharolian-styled Hepburn portraits, this process of creating new Hepburns could arguably reflect the same “increasing industrialization of Western societies” and “reacts seismographically to potential changes in collective moods and behavior” (Honnef, Pop Art , 19). By this I mean, the classical Warholian portraits of Hepburn employ the same “repetition as a method” as the original “copies” employed (Barthes, “That Old Thing, Art”), yet through its near approach to “sheer imitation” (Honnef, Pop Art , 22), new productions reflect emerging cultural typologies, technical changes, etc. We see this both through more drastic changes in the original portrait -- to the background/style/setting (reflecting technical/mechanical changes) and through changes in the actress’s style and/or pose. By “doubling” the signifiers of the classic pop art images of Hepburn, and yet revealing the actress’s more natural identity (i.e.- un-iconic and more natural/realistic poses/backgrounds) the art reveals once again the “fields of tension developed between the territories of the artistic and the real”(Honnef, Pop Art, 22).


To me, it is similarly revealing to see how brands themselves attempt to create reappropriations of their products. Specifically – the Disney Princess brand as they attempt to stylize their characters in a “pop art” iconic style. Recontextualized from their original media productions, the princess subjects become modern brand images for young girls –temporalizing Disney “codes” and personalities. As the “princess” subjects are a type of “pop art” or, perhaps more, popular culture, in the sense they are copied and altered, I often feel they create an un-intentional disturbing view of the “mechanisms of society” in their creation and reproduction (Honnef, Pop Art, 15-9).

While certainly, they were not created to “infuse new life into ‘high’ art” (Honnef, Pop Art, 17), viewed as a critical artistic cultural production, the brand creates a revealing, inner perspective of our society and values and method of artistic production and hybridization. Considering the impact of commercial art on culture, society, and specifically, in these cases, you adults, perhaps the role of pop art becomes even more critical to challenge these methods and democratization of production. On the same strand, as s methods of reproduction become easier, it is comforting to know methods of artistic creation and dissemination (Web 2.0, etc.) have likewise become easier, allowing the increasingly undemocratic productions of Hollywood to become new forms of “pop art” not only through the “high art” of museums but through self-expression of the masses.

Pop Art vs. Pin-Up Art—Mel Ramos, Alberto Vargas, and the Context of a Female Nude

external image lg223-009.jpgexternal image tumblr_l776oqDpSS1qabj53o1_500.jpg

I have had a fascination with pin-up art for sometime now; it is difficult for me to name the exact reasons it intrigues; the glaring sexual objectification in this art runs opposite to my dearly held ideal about gender, but despite my ideological objections, the synthetic but energetic femininity appeals to me. I collect pin-up art—particularly Alberto Vargas’ work. Alongside or perhaps burgeoning from my interest in Vargas, I have been equally compelled by Mel Ramos’ work. Vargas and Ramos produced very similar images (as shown) but are received in quite different ways: Ramos is pop art carrying concept or even statement, Vargas is pedestrian, if not vulgar, pin-up. I think the comparison here is somewhat unique; one could perhaps make a parallel to other nude works perhaps in photography, but usually a porn shot and an artistically aimed nude aren’t confused for one another.

As is practice with pop art, Ramos appropriates and carefully recreates the true aesthetic of the pin-up girl in all of her commercial charm. He places this product, pin-up girl, along side other carefully crafted products—foodstuffs and other commodities such as cigars. While the product images in their traditional uses have a cultural meaning, that meaning changes when they are placed together: it’s a statement about women, sexuality, hunger, consumption, and hedonism (in its strict definition). While I might be a pin-up hobbyist, even I can concede the intellectual supremacy of Ramos. This has me wondering about commercial images to pop art, when does it become art? What factor about pop art distinguishes it from its commercial art form? In the case of Ramos, I see it as a sort of “two negatives make a positive:” mass food product (-) + vulgar sex object for the workingman (-)= ironic (trying to tread lightly with this term here), different, new reception (+). Pop art crosses this line through many routes beyond my little formula—many times the only difference is context, venue, or assumed intent. For me this case in point is helpful in the issue of reappropriation and context.

The female nude is something we can examine through time, I threw in La Grande Odalisquesimply to demonstrate the consistent portrayal of this body and this pose in various and divergent contexts. Despite this repletion, each case carries a significant shift in meaning—a real departure and edit in our cultural encyclopedias. To revert back to some issues of property rights, what could be a clearer example of the same image really being “different” each time despite the undeniable sameness—the human form always being a hybrid.

external image Ingre_Grande_Odalisque.jpg

Ramos’ treatment of the female nude, for me, sheds some light on many of the questions of image and “authentic” (or impossibility of) origin. Also, putting these thoughts together has allowed me a bit broader understanding of Pop than just Warhol—of course not a knock on Warhol, but a way to see Pop as something other than soup cans. I see here a distinct defensive of context protecting against infringement: the same image can’t truly be understood as plagiarism when the context shifts the meaning, while they could be “exactly the same,” after repositioning they really are no longer “the same.” It is a case for making sense of cultural hybridity, the relative of truth of “nothing new under the sun,” but also a sigh of relief that even when there is “nothing new” and its all “the same,” it can actually be vastly different.

--Erica Harp

Image Sources:
http://www.popartuk.com/g/l/lg223-009.jpg (Vargas)
http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l776oqDpSS1qabj53o1_500.jpg (Ramos)
http://www.sppaddict.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Ingre_Grande_Odalisque.jpg (Ingres)

“Once you 'got' Pop, you could never see a sign again the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.” -Andy Warhol

There were a few phrases and terms in our readings this week that really stuck out to me, and made me think about the depth beyond the ostensible shallowness of Pop Art. In the opening paragraph of “That Old Thing, Art...” Barthes notes the “two voices” of the pop art movement, “one says ‘This is not Art’ and the other says, at the same time: ‘I am Art.’”

As we all know, Pop Art was born as a counterargument to the high brow, unique, artist-driven era of modernism, and as such it is not surprising that its tactics were both revolutionary and bold. As Pop Art tried to demystify the ideas and elevation of fine art, it promoted a new commercially driven style of art. As is often the way of de-centering, Pop Art managed to push the canonized idea of art off of its pedestal (to a certain extent), but rather than wholly revolutionizing the art world as a business model, it simply aestheticized the qualities of Pop Art. Inherently in creating their work, the Pop artists were redefining the idea of art, but still working within the paradigm of “art”. Although the original intention might have been to emphasize that “this is not art” by the art world’s standards, Pop Art soon enough became sought after, admired, and raised to the level of fine art, reinforcing the idea that it was, in fact, art.

As a young artist I was, as many people are, fascinated by Andy Warhol. By his studio “The Factory”, the art he made, and most notably, the things he said. Pop Art was (is) a movement unique in its oneness with itself. An artist like Andy Warhol lived his life in a Pop style, because he himself was Pop. Unlike minimalists or abstract expressionists, Pop Artists were all about buying into the commercial world, and this of course pervaded the way that they lived their lives. Rather than steeping themselves in the history of Greco-Roman art and architecture, Pop Art was about substituting “the everyday for the splendid; mass produced articles are assigned the same importance as one-offs; the difference between high culture and popular culture is swept away.” (Honnef) So often in art, as in most fields, we try to align ourselves with the “geniuses” of the past, to deny the pleasure we taken in decidedly “low brow” activities. Pop Art is unique in its harmony with the commercial day to day, up to the moment events of contemporary life. Here are a few quotes from “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol” that I have always remembered:

“My idea of a good picture is one that's in focus and of a famous person.” -Andy Warhol

“Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there - I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually it's the way things happen to you in life that's unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it's like watching television - you don't feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it's all television.” -Andy Warhol

“I suppose I have a really loose interpretation of "work" because I think that just being alive is so much work at something you don't always want to do. Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery. People are working every minute. The machinery is always going. Even when you sleep.” -Andy Warhol

I have always felt a kinship with Warhol and his candid and illuminating way of looking at society. From Pop Artists we can learn that in denying or overlooking the essence or pulse of the contemporary moment, you stand to lose a deeper understanding of it. While Warhol might have written off his work, work ethic, and thought process as shallow and about all things frivolous, in creating this work he was bringing these highly contemporary practices and modes of thinking out of the “spectacle”, and into the spotlight. In a very real way, Pop Art served as a forum for confronting, questioning, challenging or even just acknowledging the practices and ideas that society had accepted as art, and those that became part of the unquestioned routine.

One Warhol quote has stuck with me since I was a kid, and has forced me to question just about every emotion or experience I have ever had:

“It's the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.”

Looking at the ways in which movies have altered the collective consciousness and emotions of our society is highly valuable, and relevant in a way wholly different from the art of previous eras. This cycle of art imitating life imitating art continues to define and redefine our society, although what then do shows like The Real Housewives or Jersey Shore say about us? Are those worth analyzing further, or trying to reinterpret as “art”? The imagery, concepts and items that Warhol worked with have since been distanced enough by time to be recognizable and resolved, but how would we feel about aestheticizing the true commercial successes of our time?

Serene Al-Kawas

Imaging Sound and Music in Pop Art
Richard Hamilton: "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?" 26 x 25 cm, 1956
Richard Hamilton: "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?" 26 x 25 cm, 1956
The presence of the reel-to-reel machine in front denotes the proliferation of audio recording and (re)production technology into the home. Similarly, the TV and the theater outside the window in the background emphasize the ubiquitous presence of the audio-visual media/mediums of television and cinema. The vacuum cleaner would also presumably be a noisy feature of "today's home."

Roy Lichtenstein, Blam, 1962.
Roy Lichtenstein, Blam, 1962.

Roy Lichtenstein, Wham, 1963.
Roy Lichtenstein, Wham, 1963.
The onomatopoetic text in comics is a sign of specific sounds.

Roy Lichtenstein, 1965
Roy Lichtenstein, 1965
The text and musical notes indicate musical sound. Is the subject holding a microphone? The "haunting' nature of the melody, along with the subject's look of worry or distress, indicate that she has a song stuck in her head. The repetition of pop music through radio, records, portable (transistor) radio, TV, etc. is an important feature of a mass mediated music market, and it is reflected in various ways in pop art. As Alloway notes in "The Arts and Mass Media,"an important factor in communication in the mass arts is high redundancy."
Roy Lichtenstein (?)
Roy Lichtenstein (?)
The guitar and musical notation again present sound, music, and musical instruments as objects of everyday life, like playing cards, milk jugs, or magazines. (This painting is evocative of Braque and Picasso collages.)

But do these images suggest sound and music itself, or are they presented as icons of sound?

Contrast these images with images of pop music icons (Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Marylin Monroe, Michael Jackson, Ice-T, LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Michael Jackson, etc.).

In pop art, it seems that music and sound are represented through image more as branded icons of pop culture context, rather than as signs of specific sounds themselves. In the case of Hamilton's collage, the specific sounds made by the audio technology are open-ended or unsignified, leaving the interpretation of what sounds might accompany these objects to the viewer. Similarly, the sonic icons from comic text are more specific, attempting to evoke specific sounds through text and image. The musical sounds indicated by the musical references in the latter two images suggest the presence of music, but no specific melody. The notation is less about specific notes or rhythms, more a sign of musical sound. Similarly, the iconic portraits of pop music icons suggest that music in the pop art and pop culture context is less about the experience of songs or sounds themselves, rather the experience of a particular musician's look, style and brand.

As an example of pop music icons, Alloway notes "the Beatles who are on records and record sleeves, movies, magazines of all kinds, radio, boutiques, who have been widely imitated..." (in "Pop Culture and Pop Art"). Alloway notes that a more holistic, "anthropological" definition of pop art could encompass all (pop) culture itself. He notes the "translatability" and "commonality" of pop art and mass mediated pop culture, which share "similarity in distribution and consumption between prints and magazines, movies, records, radio, TV, and industrial and interior design."

Yet the pop artists of the '60s and '70s stuck with a largely visual medium for their work. The eighteenth and nineteenth century "divide" between various forms of art and music was blurred somewhat through images, but not the medium itself. Perhaps pop artists were creating installations that included sounds (??), but these are not apparent from their works that have been crystallized as digital images or sold at auction.

A variety of parallels might be drawn between trends in "art music" and pop art during the same time period: serialism, minimalism, and manipulated taped sound/music concrete could correspond to similar phases of art. At the same time pop art was gaining currency, composers and musicians were beginning to experiment with recorded sound through forms like music concrete that attempted to recontextualize sounds from everyday life. Composers like John Cage sought anonymity of the composer in their works, instead creating scores that relied on chance elements to provide the input for musicians. As "high art" and "low art" collapsed, these forms would creep into pop music through experiments of artists like The Beatles who famously used taped sound in Tomorrow never knows. These musical features are all arguably analogous to the features of pop art during its initial phase.

From what I can tell, the visual (pop) art, "art music" and pop music worlds remained largely distinct during the '60s and early '70s. Now, we see a confluence of all these mediums, forms and features in mixed media installations, sound art, and genres of (popular?) dance music like minimal techno or tech-house. My question is whether this confluence existed during the early years of pop art? If not, could it have been predicted? What did a Warhol exhibit in 1962 sound like? Was there music? If so, what kind and why? Who chose the music, the curator or the artist? Was it seen as integral to the exhibit, or just part of museum/gallery culture?

Ben King

Di Lu

As in the way I understand pop art, it features accessibility on a large scale. I think it includes two levels of accessibility: one between artists to sources from numerous existence (the ready-made images, music, items, ideas, narratives, etc); and the other between artistic production to its audience/readers. Pop art encourages people to be inspired by the mass culture and mundane objects in daily life and remix them for new outcomes. Taking a different approach of elite culture, pop art manages to create artistic works which the mass can distinguish and understand with elements from what the mass is familiar with. In other works, I believe pop art relies largely on the nutrition of preexisting components in the culture which an artist is surrounded and therefore can best interpret. This relationship of dependency makes an artist’s interpretation and the environment that helps build the interpretation especially noticeable. This is the observation on the first level I mentioned above.

The importance of contexts of an artistic work and the artist’s way of encoding and decoding should also be addressed on the second level. In Eco’s development of the concept of “cultural encyclopedia”, he argues about the possible difference in interpretation based on readers’ varied access and competence to the whole “dictionary”. Quoted from the “cultural encyclopedia” entry created by Prof. Irvine, it well elaborates that “our learned codes for associating signs and symbols with their cultural meanings are a function of this macro-cultural Encyclopedia. The various vocabularies, discourses, dialects, and the whole lexicon of a language (like English) form a cultural dictionary, which preexists any individual user, who has varying levels of access to, and familiarity with, the whole Dictionary. Language, discourse, narratives, and visual images are the memory machines of culture.” As a result, lack of background knowledge of the culture in which a work is embedded will obviously affect the readers/audience’s ability to appreciate, especially in pop art where many daily life concepts, routines, topics are rooted.

Thus, the required capacity of understanding contents and contexts of pop art for audience leads to diverse pop arts flourishing worldwide with their own characteristics. For example, pop art in the U.S is perfectly combined with popular commercial culture. It is motivated by and grows with the momentum of mass media and popular cultures. Hamilton’s Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? is a great representation of features of American pop art.

In some other parts of the world, pop art is shaped by concerns and usage of political and social representations, such as China and, to some degree, Spain. In China political pop or “red pop” gets its way. The wide familiarity of images of the past Cultural Revolution, a very unique period in Chinese history, serves as the introduction of pop art to China. The spirit and strategy of pop art provides Chinese artists with the possibilities to play with the once-worshiped political symbols as a way to express their thoughts on present society. Similarly, when Spanish pop art developed under Franco’s autocracy, many artistic works of that time inevitably implied the rebellion against repression, as what may be perceived in Manolo Valdés’s productions.


Another example which there sees strong influence of local culture is Japan’s pop art, led by the well-known artist Takashi Murakami. His works are good demonstration of his observations and interpretation of Japanese animation, the generation of Otaku (young people who are addicted to virtual world in comic and daydream they are one part of the world) and what he calls the “superflat” culture in Japan. Interestingly, this representation also caters to western world’s impression of the country and that explains Takashi Murakami’s commercial success in the U.S and Europe. No matter it is a loyal representation to the reality, it again proves how cultures and subcultures are valued in pop art.



Yu-wei Wang

In last week’s reading The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin proposed the concept of the “aura” in the artwork and criticized that the substantive reproductions of artworks in the mechanical age leads to the demise of the aura and the depreciation of the artwork. In Benjamin’s notion, an artwork should be consecrated, exclusive, eternal, classic and unique which is similar to the traditional concept of “high art”. Pop art, emerged in the mechanical age, on a contrary, is mass produced, popular, commercial, secular, fashion and hybrid which is so called a “low art” in the traditional notion of artworks. It is because of these features of Pop art that there are two voices raised toward Pop art noted by Roland Barthes in That old thing, art…, -- one says: “This is not Art”; the other says, at the same time “I am Art.” The two polarizations of the debates about the Pop art during late 1900s make me think of the debates on current Remix art that whether Remix artworks should be considered as a completed artwork or just a collage and appropriation works.

“Popular art, as a whole, offers imagery and plots to control the changes in the world; everything in our culture that changes is the material of the popular arts” stated by Lawrence Alloway in his The Art and the Mass Media. Alloway indicates that Pop art reveals the reality of our society via materials that we overlooked yet consumed daily. In other words, it is the Pop art that records the culture of the twentieth century, including the progress of technology, the prosperity of economy and the rise force of the mass. Thus, under the semblance vulgar of shallowness of Pop art, it is the depth intentions that express from its artworks that enable the Pop art not just popular but be considered as one of an influential power that influences the twentieth century. Moreover, Pop is the first movement that re-appropriate photographic imageries in an act of remixing, the mix beyond cultural boundaries, the mix of high and low that form into a new method of art, the expression of intensions. As I see it, it is the crucial reason why after decades, those famous Pop artworks, Andy Warhol’s Monroe in Warhol style for example, do not be forgotten and they are not as transient as Richard Hamilton mentioned before; instead, Pop art still prosper and transforms into several schools, such as Graffitist, Public Art and Japanese Pop. The classic example of mixing the high and low art is the Graffitist artist Keith Haring. Graffitist is an art emerged in New York and Berlin in early 1970’s that combines Hip Hop culture and the spirit of social movement. Graffitist artists usually take the outside wall of the public buildings as their canvas and mostly using stylish words and graphs to express their ideas or anger toward the social reality. Keith Haring is a typical Graffitist artist in New York. His compositions are mainly appears on the walls of subway stations; however, because of his stylistic talented compositions, his graffitist works(low art) marched into museums(places for high arts).

Keith-Haring-Journey-of-the-Radiant-Baby-Bookcover.png st-1900873-s400.jpg
Left: The picture of Keith Hring.
Right: Baby Heart by Keith Hring

Public Art, Ballon Dog by Jeff Koons

Drawing back to the current digital remix works, thanks to the advent of the Internet, digital remix works not merely the mosaic of prior works, the reflection of domestic phenomenon but also adds the footages from foreign culture that reflex the cross culture pollination in digital world domain. Further, under the digital epoch, contemporary art evolves in an interactivity feature, what evolution that Pop art will be in a few decades?

The Remix Pop art of Japanese animation style figure and American cartoon style figure.

Picture sources:

http://laurenjoanna.deviantart.com/art/Keith-Haring-Tribute-158498416?q=&qo= http://www.artsdealer.net/AGA/e_paper/20050531/20050531.htm

Helene Vincent

Within our reading for today, one small sentence stood out to me most, “Pop art is the art of industrialism”(Alloway). The Pop art movement of the late 1950s emerged at a time when things were changing in America; the economy was in the midst of a post-war boom, more products were being made available more readily, and banks created new policies extending loans and credit to the American public. All three of these factors contributed to a common thread—the rise of the American consumer. Americans had more money to spend, more time to spend it, and many more things to spend it on. Advertising and television played a large role in fueling this American desire to spend, which makes perfect sense, because what advertisements and films do is create a kind of ultimate fantasy where you can say to yourself “if I own this thing, I will be the kind of person I want to be” or “If I behave this way, I will be the kind of person I want to be”. Pop art is, as Alloway states, the art of industrialism, but it is also the art of consumerism. One of the best ways to understand the idea that Pop art is the art of industrialism is to think about the very way it is produced. The rise of the machine age in industry removed the need for a precise human hand to create a product. That removal of the human hand is precisely what Pop artists were trying to do through their process of abbreviation. Instead of creating images from their own minds/imaginations, artists simply appropriated the images they saw around them to create deadpan or passive images within their works. This idea lead me to wonder, are works of pop art the equivalent to assembly line products? Is their artistic value put into question because of their means of production? If a can of tomato soup is considered inferior to a bowl of fresh tomato soup made from scratch, does it logically follow that a silkscreen must be inferior to, say, an oil painting? I personally find this question to be interesting in terms of art in general; what is more important, the idea or the labor behind a work?

Artists of the Pop art movement, like Andy Warhol, chose to depict everyday life and common objects—soup cans, mainstream celebrities, electric chairs (new technology). I found one of Roland Barthes’ statements quite interesting in respect to the subjects of Pop art, “We come full circle: not only is pop art an art, not only is this art ontological, but even its reference is finally—as in the highest periods of classical art—Nature”. I find the suggestion interesting because when thinking of ‘nature’ I believe most people think of open spaces of green, trees, lakes, mountains etc. in other words spaces untouched by modern machinery. But ‘nature’ is not necessarily a term exclusive to pastures and fields, nature is your environment, it is the vastness of what you as one small human being are surrounded by, and in the 1950s that was advertisements, consumer goods, celebrities, photographs, and comic strips. As Henry Geldzahler discussed in A Symposium on Pop Art, Pop art was a new kind of landscape painting where the artist observed his environment, took it all in, and created work based on his visual experience. Still-lives of fruit were replaced by repetitions of campbell’s soup cans and portraits of royalty were replaced by iconic images of celebrities. This is an oddly ironic way of looking at Pop art since the movement was an attempt to cancel the older “grand tradition” of European art and move towards a reduction of personal nuances of handling by the artist. Pop artists sought to detach themselves from their work, yet they still played into an important thread present throughout art history—the depiction of an environment. The environment Pop artists lived in was one of consumerism and industrialism. Americans were being bombarded with images everywhere they went. For the first time it was possible to turn on a device and watch images come up on a screen all day long, and all of those images were promoting an ideal that everyone sought--a better life. By appropriating those images and displaying them in a deadpan way, Pop artists, I believe, exposed those images for what they really were: Just objects.

Yizhou Zhang

What impressed me the most among this week’s readings is the summary of the characteristics of pop art by Richard Hamilton - that pop art is popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous and Big Business. It was in 1957 when Hamilton wrote the letter to Alison and Peter Smithson, but each of the eleven features above exactly applies to what we’ve seen and heard in the 21st century. Just as Walter Benjamin said, the “aura” of fine art faded way due to technical changes, which practically eliminated the monopoly of pure art and endowed the access of artwork to the mass. From the perspective of critical theorists, the negative aspect of mass-produced culture on society is the danger to the so-called high art. But I don’t think pop art should be discriminated - it let us embrace a new scope of art since the definition of art itself has changed, as well as the relationship between artist and audience.

By criticizing the lack of artistic “sincerity” (uniqueness, originality) of pop art, perhaps we should return to the essence of art - to express our senses, emotions and intellect through human creativity and technique. Compared with the representation of nature and reality in fine art, pop art is the appropriation and reproduction of what is already a hybrid - for instance, the combinations of materials in Robert Rauschenberg’s work, the collage of signs in Richard Hamilton’s work, the parody of comics in Roy Lichtenstein’s work, and the repeat of visual symbols in Andy Warhol’s work, etc.

Surrounded by “simulacra” and “fantasy” created by pop culture and consumer society, we’ve been familiar to the core of pop art - the sign system, in our everyday life even without consciousness. It’s not merely about the perception of artworks and media products by interpreting the signifier and signified, but also about recognizing our identity through “a network of messages and objects that we share with others”.

Takashi Murakami, one of the most famous contemporary Japanese artists in the Western world, is known for blurring the boundary between high and low art from form to content. Born after the World War II, Murakami grew up in downtown Tokyo, deeply influenced by manga, anime and sub-cultures. Therefore his work is primarily based on the larger sign system of the post-war Japanese culture and society. By defining the term “Superflat”, Murakami described an aesthetic tendency of flat, two-dimensional imagery, along with “flattened” popular taste and social relations. Also, he commercially combined pop art with the fashion industry and luxury market, building a bridge between the Japanese culture and the Western world in a “pop” way.


Yayoi Kusama, another contemporary Japanese pop artist, whose work has been categorized into various “isms” such as feminism, surrealism and minimalism, just described herself as an “obsessive artist” with mental illness. It might be a little bit ironic that all the visual features of her art come from the hallucinations since her childhood rather than any "ism".


Xindi Guo

A significance of pop art is to let general people get close to art. The philosopher Thomas Carlyle said, “The history of the world is but the biography of great men” (Find here). It means that only great men could be written in the history and most people are just audiences. The history is only the story of high class people. Also, for art, only artist can make art works. Art is made for high class people. Until 1968, Andy Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” (Find here). The world history has changed. Everyone could be a part of the history and everyone could write his own history. Nowadays, Andy Warhol’s prediction has already come true. With the prosperity of talent shows such as American Idol and internet such as YouTube, everyone could be world-famous only if you would like to show off.
Pop art borrows the sign from commercial directly, which make art loose its boundaries. It is very hard to distinguish art from commercial works. Art begin to work for business, while business can help artists make more money. Andy Warhol is a representative of commercial art. With the works made by Andy Warhol, advertisement becomes a combine of art and business value. Andy Warhol is not only an artist, but a graphic designer, a writer, a publisher, etc. his art works have inseparable connections with commercialism, consumerism and celebrity worship. His art works are the products of the mass culture and mass medium. One of the most famous types of Warhol’s works is mechanical copy, the concept brought from industrial revolution. He copied a mass cultural sign in different colors or in same colors to express new meanings.

What is the meaning of copy? The significance of copy is to share. The invention of copy machine lets human beings easy to share their cultures. In our daily life, people copying each other to share common feelings and common cultures. Pop culture was born in this way. When people use same gesture and same words to greet, people identify themselves as a same group. Those mass culture signs considered as commercial art because they abandon the attribute rare to broadcast through mass medium. From this perspective, Andy Warhol’s art works of copying is very interesting. He is using signs of shared culture to create a sense of vacancy and indifferent, which go against the general meaning of copy, sharing cultures and identifications.

Nowadays, Andy Warhol’s idea of copying is used for commercial everywhere. The iPod/iTunes commercial use video to copy the pop cultural behavior, dance to express a common feeling of using iPod/iTunes.

Also, for remembering Steve Jobs, artists borrow the sign of apple logo as a source to express new idea.
Bearbrick is a collectible toy designed and produced by the Japanese company MediCom Toy Incorporated (Find here). Artists design their bearbrick with different pop signs in clouding cartoon stars, national flags etc.

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It seems that a perfect storm of conditions in the mid-1950s allowed for the Pop Art movement to begin to brew. The world was finished with a major conflict the likes of which people had never seen before. New technologies were starting to change the way people could connect. Economic prosperity was starting to change the access and lifestyle of the modern consumer. Instead of a quiet reflection and processing of these massive world-scale changes, they seeped into the art world exploded as Pop Art.

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Peter Blake’s “Girlie Door” is a work which appropriates images from popular culture and is a piece of Pop Art which exemplifies each of the qualities of the genre listed in Richard Hamilton’s 1957 Letter to Peter and Alison Smithson. It can easily be consumed by a mass audience--even a child would know that the art appears to be a red door with pictures of women on it. It’s transient and expendable because the door is in fact fake and the series of similar pictures leave the viewer not necessarily remembering any individual figure. The piece is low cost and mass produced because it utilizes cheap magazine photos, resembling how a teenager would tear out and post celebrity photos. It is for this same reason young-leaning. Wittiness comes in the very fact that it dares to utilize images from low brow mass magazines in a tongue-in-cheek manner in a way that could exist in any person’s home. It challenges the viewer to determine why the artist chose this and to perhaps consider why they too may have a shrine to celebrity on the back of their door. Finally the Pop Art characteristics of sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and big business again connect to the commercial, image-conscious, sexualized nature of the “girlie” pictures originally meant to entice mass audiences but now appropriated by Blake.

Another important aspect of Pop Art is the unexpected reversal of values. Barthes quotes Lichtenstein saying, “What characterizes pop is mainly its use of what is despised.” Often the art has what the masses would regard as vulgar connotations. Or often the art is banal and ordinary.
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Oldenburg’s “The Apple Core” raises a throwaway, disregarded object up to a massive scale. It’s almost as if people who knew nothing about our culture would think that this apple core was a religious monument. But I interpret Pop Art as put across to the viewer with a wink and a nudge. Pop Artists like Andy Warhol typically did not want to be taken seriously; he almost embraced the idea of being a merely shallow mirror of society. "People are always calling me a mirror, and if a mirror looks into a mirror, what is there to see?" (LA Times Warhol story). However, though Pop Art has a massive appeal I believe that it still is best experienced with what Eco calls a “competence in language as a social treasury.” Or as Alloway says, “the practised reader is the one who understands the conventions of the work he is reading.” When people can recognize the conventions behind tabloids, comics, movies, etc., they can better understand Pop Art and get the wink and the nudge or the inside joke to which the Pop Artist often refers.

I believe because Pop Art is so based in the economic and commercial, and so characterized by mimicry, it’s difficult for many viewers to find sincerity. As far back as 1957, Richard Hamilton was already questioning the “sincerity” or “pseudo-sincerity” of Pop Art. However, it seems to be living on quite strongly in the artistic canon so far. A recent Wall Street Journal article speaks to Pop Art’s “global appeal” and indicates that works in the genre are still fetching growing sums at auctions in the high art world. The article quotes a Christie’s chairman, " ‘The new buyers are the most powerful buyers in the marketplace now,’ he said, adding that he's watched the pool of buyers who can spend $30 million-plus on a Pop painting double in recent years, thanks to wealthy, emerging markets like China and Brazil. ‘These guys want impactful paintings that are easy to understand.’ ”

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This 1961 Roy Lichtenstein work, "I Can See the Whole Room…and There's Nobody in It!", is set to be auctioned by Christie’s for at least $35 million next month. The owners paid $2 million 23 years ago. I have to wonder what the Pop Artists themselves would think of such a sum for one of their works? They would probably just laugh.
--Barry Blitch

Ashley Wei

“The core of Pop Art, however, is essentially, an art about signs and sign-systems.” It is very interesting when it relates to the clichés of Van Gogh and Picasso, whom I didn’t consider have anything to do with Pop Art. Now I realize that when I see a painting of Van Gogh or Picasso, I first recognize the style/sign rather than the content. And the repeated sign formed a knowledge asset that not only represents the reality, but also “is the reality.” Pop art is well aware that the fundamental expression of the person is style. I love the quote “Style is the man” a lot. It explains the phenomenon in contemporary art where artists repeat their work again and again. The sum of every individual work is a brand new art work, and it seems to me is influenced by the result of mass-production and consumption culture – the brand.

I recall some well-known Chinese artists and their work. It seems that the artist’s name is always associated with a symbol: for instance, Zhou Chunya and his “green dog”, Zeng Fanzhi and his “mask”. If I saw a painting that was not about “green dog” and I was told it was a work of Zhou Chunya, I would probably say “oh really?” and I won’t treat the author as the same “Zhou Chunya”. It seems like the artist’s identity is always bond to his style, rather than the person. It is true that taking away the style and there is no longer any individual man. The notion of style brings life to the artist and his work.

I was also fascinated by what Andy Warhol asked “What makes one work of art better than another?” and it makes me start to think about democracy. We were educated what is fine art and were made to think that "high art" is better because it's intangible, inaccessible, which give them a sense of beauty. But who says everyday commodities (and ordinary people) are meant to be ugly? That’s a very good question that blows my mind. It provides a hint to understand why contemporary art is not accepted by the mass in China because people are used to believe that the central authority is the only source of beauty and art– the so-called “in-system artists.” I think one of the most important contributions of Pop artists is that they start to ask questions but leave the answer open to the audiences: no matter it is good or bad, beautiful or ugly, you decide.

Zhou Chunya and his "green dog"

Zeng Fanzhi and his "mask"

Siyang Wu

Maybe deeply impressed by the movie Factory Girl , Andy Warhol, to me who is the most representative idol of Pop Art, is white, cold, and ironic. He made Marilyn, Liz, and his “super stars” such as Edie Sedgwick to be the icons, and at the same time, himself became the icon of Pop Art.

Richard Hamilton’s definition of Pop art that “Pop art is popular(designed for a mass audience), transient(short-term solution), expendable(easily-forgotten), low cast, mass produced, young(aimed at youth), witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, big business” is impressive. It is not only adoptable to the pop art, but also to the modern society behind it. It reminds me the Factory established by Andy Warhol, his New York studio.

Pop art is so real, just like money. Sometimes I feel what made Andy Warhol so different is commerce. He understood the power and art, and borrowed elements from both of then. The icons he made, just like Marilyn, before becoming an art, was already popular. I think it was kind of brave in his age to mix art and commerce so straightforwardly. Large number of replication always happened in Andy’s work, it made the viewer feel it was so cheap to achieve and it was so close to your mundane lives. Then the so called “Art” was pulled down from the throne.

Pop art standing in front of the public just like a beautiful blonde (Marilyn comes to my mind first), she is so close to you, walking around, you can find her every time you want, but she is not belong to you. Thinking about Hamilton’s definition, he was more like talking about a charming person that produced by Andy’s factory, but not the art.

Before writing this paper, I always think Andy Warhol is the last person I want to write about, especially after watching Factory Girl. I prepared to write some thing about Jasper and his flag. There is another flag in Trinity chapel that contains all of the names of people who lost their lives in September 11th. Those flags matches my usually understanding towards art, generated by the inner feeling and emotion,and reflect the outside world. But when you look at Andy’s work, what directly come to your mind is the sign of dollar. But I can’t stop thinking about Andy and his factory and I can’t deny that he is the truly spirit of Pop art.

There is an ongoing debate in the last 20 years or so about the commercialism of the museum; how much is too much? Additionally, there is another debate, what type of things should a museum show? Should museums be actively promoting the blockbuster exhibition? Both of these questions relate to notions of pop art. It is now old news how Warhol took the every day consumer product, something considered inherently as “low culture” into a work of art, thus transforming it into “high culture”. What I found fascinating about the Murakami exhibition at MOCA in L.A. in 2008 was the museum’s total embrace of the commercial aspect of his work. Although this is not considered novel now, the museum exhibition ended in a gift shop. Not only could you buy (and you still can through the museum store’s) Murakami stuffed animals, posters, and badges but the purses that he collaborated with designer Marc Jacob for Louis Vuitton were also for sale. The fact the museum is in unapologetic in its glorification of the commercial aspect of Murakami’s work is space is noteworthy, since museums usually try to distance themselves from the embrace of commercialism.
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Roger Shimomura, in his work, looks at how commercial goods can help shape the perception of culture, particularly Japanese culture, in society. In his paintings, American Hello Kitty and American Pikachu, he examines these iconic images by placing the image of his own face. This changes the cute aspect of the image; they are no longer universal images that can be sold or consumed, the personalization although comical makes them slightly disturbing.

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Roger Shimomura, American Hello Kitty, 2010 Roger Shimomura, American Pikachu, 2010

Katy Schwager

Victoria Hamilton

If as a nation we have lost all sense of what is “normal,” why not find solace in the familiar? The creature comforts of imagery that suggest familiarity. Pop Art is cultural reappropriation and social commentary at its best. Born of Post World War II culture and society, it relied upon a reversal of values. The mundane, the vulgar and the familiar became the exalted. Pop Art put them all on equal ground.

If Pop Art could make the despised art, then surely art could be despised as well. Much like Barthes said, “Art is something that must be destroyed.” Jasper Johns used to the flag to illustrated his concept of creative imagery drawing from “things the mind already knows.” What is ubiquitous than the flag? As a symbol it implies bravery, heroicisim, nostalgia, thanksgiving, democracy and freedom. By exalting an already revered cultural symbol, Johns opened the door for others, such as Faith Ringgold and Barbara Kruger to consider their own experiences as Americans to create their own unique American narrative. They have also remixed and called into question the blind allegiance and adoration of the symbolic and mundane. This is their own narrative, their own expression, questioning of standards. Is it art or isn’t it? Who are we to judge?

Jasper Johns, American Flag, 1954-55

Barbara Kruger, American Flag, 1991

Faith Ringgold, Flag for the Moon, (Die Nigger), 1969