New Realism, Pop Art, Op Art & Hyperrealism

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  • 0:01 Modern Art
  • 0:39 Pop Art
  • 1:48 New Realism
  • 2:56 Op Art
  • 4:09 Hyperrealism
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore a few different artistic styles that have emerged since the mid-20th century and discover what they have in common and what makes them unique. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Modern Art

There is just so much art out there! I mean, art is just everywhere! We can try to categorize it into styles, but even that can be confusing. Some styles are defined by a technique or a medium, others by ideas and philosophies. But, I guess this is a good problem. After all, who would want to live in a world without art? Luckily for us, since the mid-20th century, new ideas about art have meant even more new styles. That's what's great about art- there are always new sources of inspiration. Even modern society can be an inspiration, and that's certainly been the case with a few movements in particular.

Pop Art

Here's a great example of a style that deals with the modern world. Pop art uses images and ideas from popular culture, which can lead to some pretty interesting ideas about fine art. First emerging in the 1950s, pop art was inspired by the major role that mass media played in modern life. From popular magazines to advertisements on billboards to comic books, the world was filling up with images, and pop artists were fascinated by this.

Did the meaning of art change when people were so used to seeing printed images everywhere in society? Did the meaning of art change when it used these same techniques or styles of mass media? Since pop art explores the relationship between commercial products and fine art, there is very often a sense of irony, humor, or satire. Pop art made a major splash in the artistic world and forced people to question the line between art and mass media in a way that hadn't been done before.

New Realism

Pop art was mostly an American and British movement, but it had a few international cousins. Over in France, the ideas of pop art were embraced in the movement called nouveau realism, or new realism. Now, new realism was not exactly like pop art because it did not focus exclusively on the images and techniques of popular culture. But it did believe that art and life should exist together, which meant that anything in the world was a potential subject for art, and this included popular culture.

New realists were very fond of posters and collages, two art forms that were very popular in Europe, because both could be used to mix elements of popular culture and fine art. After all, posters are a popular medium, usually used for commercial purposes, and collages can be composed of really anything, from ads to magazines to other posters. So, like the pop artists, they relied very heavily on using premade materials that were turned into fine art, but their focus extended beyond just popular culture into any and every aspect of life.

Op Art

Other artistic movements were just as interested in finding ways to challenge the meaning of art, but found various ways to do so. Op art is characterized by the use of optical illusions. But there's more to it than just 'well, this is fun.' Just as in pop art and new realism, the viewer is forced to stop and say, okay, what am I looking at here? That's the real point behind many modern movements like op art: to create a conversation between the viewer and the piece.

Let's put it this way- what is the subject of this piece? It doesn't really have one does it? Now what's that say about art? Does art need a subject, or is it just about the physical elements? This makes op art different from styles of new realism. The new realists used bits of premade, found objects like scraps of magazines. The final appearance wasn't actually the most important thing, since it was the process of making art and what it represented about society that mattered. Op art, on the other hand, was all about the visual, without greater significance.


Op art really makes you stop and think about what you're seeing. Optical illusions kind of mess with your head, but so can images that look too real to be fake. That's the idea behind hyperrealism, the style of art characterized by extremely naturalistic images.

Example of Hyperrealism

Example of Hyperrealism

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