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British Pop: Culture, Art & Artists

Instructor: Alessandra Sulpy
This lesson will talk about what Pop Art is, and how American and British Pop Art differ. You will also learn about some of the most important artists working in this art movement.

What is Pop Art?

When most of us think about Pop Art, we think about the 1960's, Campbell's Soup cans, and loud, bright colors. While Andy Warhol may be the first pop artist to come to mind for many of us, there were many other artists working in this genre (category of style) even earlier than Warhol in London, England. So what is Pop Art, exactly? Well, there's no quick answer to that - in fact, American Pop Art and British Pop Art have slightly different ideas and meanings behind them - more on that in a moment! In both cases, the 'pop' in the name refers to popular culture - artists were interested in advertisements, industrial design, and mass produced objects among other artifacts of popular culture. Richard Hamilton, a British painter who helped to found the Pop Art movement, defined it as: '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, and big business'.

When Pop Art Was Born

Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi were part of a group of artists, writers, and critics called the Independent Group (IG), who met in London in the early 1950's. They discussed many ideas that we today associate with Pop Art, such as mass culture (advertisements, news, etc) and found objects (something that already exists) turning into and becoming high culture (art!). They were especially interested in redefining the ideas of traditional art. In the late 1950's, Hamilton and Paolozzi took ideas they formed from the Independent Group and made collaged works of art. Collage is taking photos, newspapers, or anything flat, cutting them out and sticking them to a surface, like a canvas or board. Their work, and much of Pop Art, shared similar ideas with Dadaism, an art movement that was founded in 1916. Both movements were interested in collage and popular culture, but Pop Art differed in that it wasn't as satirical or destructive as Dada, instead embracing the ideas of pop culture as a way to create high culture art.

Tribute to Sir Peter Blake, a bollard in Winchester, England created in 2012.
Peter Blake Bollard

What Kind of Pop Culture Did They Use?

Artists were interested in all kinds of mass-produced imagery, such as magazines, newspapers, packaging on grocery products, pin-up girls, comic books, etc. The term ephemera means things (usually printed matter) that are only used, enjoyed, or existed for a short period of time, and never meant to be kept or held onto.

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