Twentieth Century Poetry: Selves and Situations

By Peter Robinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Tom Raworth and the Pop Art
Explosion

I

Difficulties for advanced artists in the middle of the pop-art explosion were outlined by Hal Foster in a London Review of Books article called ‘Pop Eye’:

It is possible to conclude from this commingling of Modernist art and comic strip
that by the early 1960s most devices of the avant-garde had become little more
than gadgets of commercial design. And certainly this is one dilemma of the
postwar or ‘neo’ avant-garde: some of the anti-art measures of the prewar or
‘historical’ avant-garde had become the stuff not only of established taste but also
of the spectacle industries.1

These remarks cut so sharply across the ‘high’- and ‘mass’-art divide that you might be forgiven for thinking artists such as Robert Rauchenberg or Andy Warhol (both of whom earned a living at first by doing commercial design work) were, however ambivalently, involved in the preservation of the distinction between fine and commercial, high and mass art, even as they benefitted from crossover and juxtaposition. Certainly Arthur C. Danto found the challenge of the Warhol Brillo Boxes a prompt in that direction, being enabled to see them as art in 1964 thanks to his dawning idea of ‘an artworld’.2 T. J. Clark too implied as much when contrasting pop with abstract expressionism: ‘The “popular” was easier to handle than the vulgar—it has more of a smell of art about it.’3 Foster’s reference to the ‘spectacle industries’ equally recalls the ways in which Clark has

1 Hal Foster, ‘Pop Eye’, London Review of Books, 24/16, 22 Aug. 2002, 7. See also comments on the use of Jackson Pollock drip paintings by Cecil Beaton in a 1 Mar. 1951 Vogue fashion shoot in T. J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press, 1999), 302–4, or remarks on the designer takeover of her op art in Bridget Riley, Dialogues on Art (London: Zwemmer, 1995), 66–70.

2 Arthur C. Danto, ‘The Art World’, Journal of Philosophy, 61/19 (1964), 580.

3 Clark, Farewell to an Idea, 401.

-206-

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