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Art Movements 101: Pop Art, Street Art, and Contemporary Art

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Pop Art was a movement started in the 1950s that blurred the lines between high and low art culture by taking inspiration from popular media. Pop Art separated art from traditional values and the need to be based in some sort of historical context. This art movement is identifiable by bold colours and exaggerated lines, with very little emphasis on realism. The major goal of Pop Art was to inter-connect every aspect of culture: media, manufacturing, societal issues, and art. This was Pop Artists’ way of embracing the manufacturing and media boom after the war. Many Pop Artists started off in commercial art, such as graphic design and billboard painting. 

Pop Art has its origins in the Independent Group which formed in the UK Post-WW2, where they discussed ways to incorporate mass culture into the art world. The origins of Pop Art in America were slightly different; it built off of the Neo-Dadaism movement (which is when artists used traditional art mediums and incorporated things from the surrounding world). The art produced in this short movement eventually transitioned to the stylings of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, which was labelled as Pop Art. Similar movements began in France and Germany but under different names. Members of the British Pop Art movement, like Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi, used their art as a way to both praise the mass production of goods while simultaneously commenting on the problems of consumer culture. They produced collages of hand-picked images which crafted a statement in order to challenge traditional art. Meanwhile in America, Roy Lichtenstein took images from picture books, movies, and popular culture and turned them into art. He used a specific technique called Ben-Day Dots, which had only been mass-produced and computer generated up until this point. Lichtenstein hand-painted a normally lowbrow technique, tying low-end culture with high-end art. Check out some of his artwork here. Andy Warhol’s artwork was another major contributor to the Pop Art movement. His work utilised repetition, no matter the subject. The repetition did play an important role in Warhol’s message, especially early in his career when he painted Coca Cola cans and cans of Campbell Soup. The repetition served to resemble a shelf at a store, where many cans would be lined up against one another. His message was that paintings are just like other consumer goods. This type of art has continued to this day, fading in and out of popularity. 

In the 1970s, more traditional canvas and billboard images were replaced in popularity by installation art. Installation art is characterized by 3 things: it is immersive, allowing the viewer to interact and become a part of the artwork, it’s larger-scale, and it’s often site-specific, meaning an artist will be commissioned to create a piece for a specific building or area (since they are large and not easily moved). Installation artists are influenced by a few other movements, such as Dadaism (which emphasizes experimentation and mixed-media), Conceptualism (which emphasizes message over aesthetic), and performance art. The famous artist Banksy (who you probably would’ve heard of) created a piece of installation art towards the end of 2019. The piece is called Gross Domestic Product and features many familiar symbols that fans of Banksy will recognize, as well as keeping to the shocking political commentary we’ve come to know from Banksy. Some of the items of this installation have been sold off. The reason? Since Banksy had produced no merch, a greeting card company tried to steal the name (as was technically within their legal right). This piece was a comment on how if you are not contributing to the economy by producing products you’re “useless.” Another installation, Untitled by Vahit Tuna, a Turkish artist, used 440 pairs of black heels on a wall to represent all the women killed by their partner in Turkey in 2018. 

Around the time Installation Art began, Street Art also emerged. First seen in the 1920s and 30s when gangs would spray paint messages on walls, it really grew in popularity in the 70s. Based in New York, young people used street art as a way to express discontent with, and their views on, the current socio-political climate. One of the pioneers of Street Art, Jean-Michelle Basquiat, became famous for his protest drawings and helped to bridge the gap from street art to galleries. From then on, it has evolved into a movement that is widely accepted in art circles, with people even commissioning artists to create large, breathtaking murals on the sides of buildings. Prominent members of the Street Art community are Cornbread and Daze (who not only pioneered the movement at a very young age, but continue to make art), Tracy 168, and Lady Pink, who creates art with messages of women and Latina empowerment (you can also see her art in exhibits). You can see some amazing Street and Installation Art in Windsor, with one of the pioneers of the Conceptual Art Movement, Iain Baxter&, lecturing at the University of Windsor. One of his most famous works, Television Works, features an old television model with an acrylic nature painting where the screen should be. 

Iain Baxter& was a pioneer of the Conceptual Art movement in Canada, which began in the 1960s and has continued to this day. In Conceptual Art, the meaning is much more important than the aesthetic, leading most conceptual artists to adopt the ideas of minimalism, expressing their point in as few materials as possible. The movement takes its inspiration from Dadaism as well, following the lead of artists like Marcel Duchamp who created the idea of the “readymade,” a found object repurposed to become art. One of his most famous works, called Fountain, shows this well. You can read more about Marcel Duchamp here. This movement helped dispel the idea that artwork must have ‘artistic skill.’ Sol LeWitt, another founder of the Conceptual Art movement, wrote in his “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” that “what the work of art looks like isn’t too important. It has to look like something if it has physical form. No matter what form it may finally have, it must begin with an idea.” The Conceptual Art movement caught on very quickly because there was no set technique or rules, the message of the piece and the artwork’s execution was entirely up to the individual artist’s discretion. To give an example, Canadian Conceptualist group General Idea created a piece called The 1971 Miss General Idea Pageant, which used the form of the traditional pageant to comment on society’s ideas of fame, beauty, and glamour, bringing it into the art world. 

Pop Art, Street and Installation Art, as well as the Conceptualism movement, all rejected the traditional style and purpose of art, creating the idea that art truly is anything the artist wants it to be. While each art movement had its critiques, these three movements/styles bear the brunt of the criticism from the art world. I am a firm believer that every art style has its merits and though sometimes artwork from these movements is not particularly beautiful, they make you think in a way more traditional styles cannot. 

https://www.theartstory.org/movement/pop-art/history-and-concepts/#beginnings_header

https://mcachicago.org/Exhibitions/2011/IAIN-BAXTER-Works-1958-2011

https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/the-history-of-street-art

https://www.theartstory.org/movement/conceptual-art/history-and-concepts/#beginnings_header

https://www.timeout.com/newyork/art/top-famous-street-artists

Giulia Vilardi is an undergrad student in the Behaviour, Cognition and Neuroscience program. In her free time she enjoys reading, playing flute and making art. She always appreciates a good music recommendation and can't get through the day without at least two cups of coffee!
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