Topics in American Art since 1945

By Lawrence Alloway | Go to book overview
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The Words

Pop Art is defined in the Random House Dictionary as follows: 'Fine Arts. a style esp. of figurative painting, developed in the US and current in the early 1960s, characterized chiefly by magnified forms and images derived from such commercial art genres as comic strips and advertising posters.' In the ten years or so of its use the term has had more meanings than this and its shifts reveal the pressure of opposed ideas of culture. For this reason, its history is, perhaps, worth recording.

The term, originated in England by me, was meant as a description of mass communications, especially, but not exclusively, visual ones. By the winter of 1957-58 the term was in use, either as Pop Culture or Pop Art. 1. Its users were art-oriented, if not themselves artists, and interested both in extending esthetic attention to the mass media and in absorbing mass-media material within the context of fine art. It was an expansionist esthetics, aimed at relating art to the man-made environment of the 50's. Advertising, color photography and color reproduction, (big screen) films, (early English) TV, automobile styling were regarded on equal terms with the fine arts; not the same, but equally interesting. The group was criticized in the mid-50s, as being pro‐ American, because a majority of the admired films, ads, science fiction, and commercial photography was American, inasmuch as the United States was, and is, the most fully industrialized country. (Pop art, before it is American art is an art of Industrialism.) Pop Art was pro‐ urban and accepted the media's roots in mass production, at a time when traditional esthetics in England was mostly pastoral or universaliz‐

SOURCE: From Auction, I/4 (February, 1962), 7-9.
The first published appearance of the terms that I know is: Lawrence Alloway. 'The Arts and the Mass Media.' Architectural Design, February, 1958. London. Ideas on Pop Art were discussed by Reyner Banham, Theo Crosby, Frank Cordell, Toni del Renzio, Richard Hamilton, Nigel Henderson, John McHale, Eduardo Paolozzi, Alison and Peter Smithson, William Turnbull, and myself.


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