Four Approaches to Pop Art

By Wales, Andrew | School Arts, January 1997 | Go to article overview

Four Approaches to Pop Art


Wales, Andrew, School Arts


I believe an introduction to a variety of styles of art is important, especially at the high school level. I try to give my students an introduction to art history. I do this by having an artist of the month. I ask the students to do a brief report, and during the month, we'll discuss that artist's methods, or use what we learn in a project. For my Art I classes of mostly ninth grade students, I believe Pop art is the ideal place to start.

Many of my students love to draw. They come in with notebooks filled with drawings of Garfield, superheroes, logos of their favorite sports teams, and so on. When I first began teaching high school art, I immediately launched into a lecture against plagiarism and made it clear that drawings of such kinds of things were absolutely forbidden. The problem I came up against is that many students are at a loss as to what to do when these things are taken from them. As a result, assignments weren't getting done. One parent I called said, "I can't understand it. She draws all the time. That's all she ever does." I thought, "Something's wrong here. Here's a kid who loves to draw, draws all the time, yet can't get into my assignments at all."

I'm afraid I turned some students off from taking future art courses by taking a hard line approach to Snoopy, Penn State logos, and Batman. I was asked by one student, "What's wrong with drawing Bambi?"

Borrowing Imagery

It occurred to me that many artists borrow imagery from popular culture, and it's not inconceivable that an artist could be hired by Disney to create a new character or an illustration featuring one of their existing characters. My approach has changed in that on some assignments. I'll say, "Okay, use the Penn State logo, but do something creative with it."

I still explain what plagiarism is and teach that it's wrong. What I'm after from them is creative modification and reinterpretation of published imagery. In some projects, I require students to draw from life, but in others, I allow Pop art.

First, I explain what Pop art is. To get the discussion rolling, I write two headings on the board: high art and low art. Under these headings, we list a few examples of art that are traditionally considered high art and what are usually thought of as low art.

I begin this discussion by holding in my hands two objects: a reproduction of the Mona Lisa and a baby food jar. I say, "I'm holding the products of two different artists in my hands. Leonardo da Vinci, who would be considered a producer of high art, and the commercial and graphic artists who drew the Gerber baby and designed the color, lettering, etc." I begin pointing to other examples of so-called low art around the room: pop cans, T-shirt designs, comic books, posters, and so on.

Four Approaches

What the Pop artists did, I explain, is to take imagery from the world of low art and use it in high art in the form of museum paintings, sculpture, etc. I show them examples, such as Andy Warhol's Heinz ketchup boxes and Campbell's soup cans. (See SchoolArts, November 1996, page 38.) I show them Roy Lichtenstein's paintings of idealized comic strip panels and any other examples of Pop art I can find. …

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