In America during the 1950s and 1960s, popular culture engulfed everything, making upholding the status quo more crucial than ever. Since then, pop art has grown in influence and has consistently challenged conventional notions of what constitutes art.
Although the post-war era now looks archaic, at the time, people were living in ways that even children at the time could not have ever imagined. A new world brought with it new viewpoints, attitudes, and jargon. There is no better way to define the aesthetics of the time than to utilise that terminology.
When he used the term POP-art to describe work that imitated consumerism and popular culture, British art critic Lawrence Alloway did exactly that.
Every home, yard, and even person’s appearance was identical because of how highly conformist the world had become.
Advertising was all-pervasive and sold the people on fictitious representations of lives they were trying so valiantly to imitate but were never able to. As a result, there was an underlying trend in the majority of households that led to an increase in drunkenness in men and a rise in nervous breakdowns and pill dependence in women.
The adults of the time had grown up in a time of hardship and little comfort due to the Great Depression, but now they had machines that did the job for them and convenience goods that appeared to be abundant and that they weren’t sure how to use.
The nation’s cultural hotspots were where the avant-garde thinkers, beatniks, and social activists noticed the hypocrisy of idealised pictures, television shows, and adored celebrities that the population was desperately attempting to copy. They perceived current tendencies as homogenising and stifling innovation, originality, and humanity. They started making efforts to demonstrate the ridiculousness of conformity.
Pop Art Simplified
Artists, particularly from Britain and America, began producing art utilising the same tools and materials that popular culture had been employing to influence the populace into mass consumerism and apathy. Modern-day classics like Brillo boxes and Campbell’s Soup cans were typically produced using the era’s packaging designs’ strong primary colours and straightforward graphics. It was a radical departure and nearly the polar opposite of Abstract Expressionism, the other major art movement of the time.
Pop artists pushed beyond realism and into reality, in contrast to abstract painters who attempted to let the medium dictate the image, as in Pollock’s droplets of paint.
Pop artists were exposing the repercussions of the trauma of recent decades in the trends of the current moment, whilst abstract expressionists used their work to compel the viewer to acknowledge the horrors of the post-war, post-depression era. The impact was profound, ground-breaking, and showed how flimsy emotional facades are.
Pop artists imitated the graphic trends of the time, the structure of popular comics, and the facial expressions of famous people and fashion models to portray their ideas. Even though it was a copy, it wasn’t collage because the artists were seasoned professionals with a history of producing intricate pieces. These pieces’ appearance was created using silk screening and even paint.
Pop art, in the words of its creator Roy Lichtenstein, “looks out into the world. It appears to be the thing itself rather than a depiction of it. Using irony and wit, the first pop artist, Richard Hamilton, described pop art as being “popular, ephemeral, replaceable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, funny, sexy, gimmicky, flashy, and Big Business.”
Pop art items weren’t only exact replicas of merchandise and marketing. Each piece contained deft sarcasm, witty wit, and a hidden message that became clear to the viewer. It may be seen when the object was removed from its natural setting, or it could be more visible with text or contextual cues.
Roy Lichtenstein’s TAKKA TAKKA, a cartoon-style work with the sound effect “takka takka” resonating with the firing of a machine gun, contains the essence and all the essential components of pop art.
Cartoons of the era, especially those in this style, were intended to be amusing or daring and brave. Lichtenstein has the advantage of juxtaposition by employing this background to communicate his message, which makes the effect more startling and thought-provoking.
The viewer is startled by the close positioning of the violent gun boom and the limited colour scheme. There are also no soldiers stated. After reading the passage, the spectator is left thinking about the emotions of both the soldiers and the victims.
The post-war era glorified America as a hero and the war effort as “the right thing to do,” but it neglected the individual soldier and the negative impacts of battle on physical and mental health, particularly in the case of many very young soldiers. A slap on the back, a firm handshake, and the words “Good job, Son” were frequently delivered in recognition of manliness and loyalty, but they ignored feelings of shock, moral uncertainty, and doubt about authority. This piece clarifies everything and makes a suggestion about a character who is hidden in the picture: the establishment that conceived of the situation and the governments that made it happen for these people—both the soldier and the victim.
By exposing the most conformist culture, the military, where people are not intended to exist and where free thought and expression are not only forbidden but also repressed through control and dominance, Lichtenstein accomplishes the main essence of pop art itself. This painting was made in 1962, on the brink of America’s entry into Viet Nam, at a time when people were starting to doubt the morality of war and wonder what the point of it was.
The artist’s choice of hues, which conjure up aggression, monotony, and ambivalence about the miseries of war, should be added to this. The captioned text mirrors the hero-worshipping and patriotized rhetoric of a news media that glossed over the terrible and devastating scenes of real battle. The sound effect text is written in the colour of blood and screams “TAKKA TAKKA.”
Critics draw attention to a different, supplementary viewpoint on the events depicted in this painting, one that emphasises the fact that, in the absence of a gunner, there is no humanity in combat and nothing to give the events depicted even the slightest emotional consideration. In this option, victims take centre stage in the psyche and are excluded from the heroics of the takka takka bullet barrage’s battering charge.
In this work, Lichtenstein successfully demonstrates the power of pop art, regardless of whether of the two perspectives the observer encounters or any other perspective. A straightforward image, in muted colours and lines, reminiscent of the benevolent templates of popular culture, very easily and successfully builds a narrative in the viewer’s mind that goes well beyond what is depicted on the painting.
Pop Art Popular in the New Millennium
Since pop art first appeared in the 1950s and 1960s, individuals have worked to maintain and even strengthen their sense of individuality. Unfortunately, popular culture, mass consumerism, and homogenised ideas nevertheless permeate our surroundings as a result of governments, corporations, and the media’s efforts to minimise the need for individualised expression.
The struggle between the individual and the institution has increased the relevance of pop art. The movement changes with the times, and today’s statements are bolder and braver than ever.
With the same vibrant energy it began with, contemporary pop art inspires and fosters thought in modern viewers through a greater range of mediums, especially digital, and with a more worldwide audience. Artists like Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Naraserve, and the always inventive Banksy inspire viewers today to consider how they are impacted by cultural conformity and to recognise and maintain their unique identities despite all consumerist pressures.
Pop art is fantastic!
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