Using Visual Culture to Put a Contemporary "Fizz" on the Study of Pop Art

By Taylor, Pamela G.; Ballengee-Morris, Christine | Art Education, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Using Visual Culture to Put a Contemporary "Fizz" on the Study of Pop Art


Taylor, Pamela G., Ballengee-Morris, Christine, Art Education


Intriguing too, is the controversial nature of Pop Art. Pop artists used imagery and techniques of consumerism and popular culture. In the process, they eliminated distinctions between "good" and "bad" taste and between fine art and commercial art techniques. Unlike the avant-garde, who "used art to dig the trench between art and life, pop did things the other way around ...it made a fetish of the new and ushered in a fascination with consumer goods as art and the gleeful appropriation of any image" (Jencks 1987 in Reiss & Feineman 2000, pp. 10-11). Artist Richard Hamilton's famous work, Just What Is It that Makes Today's Home so Different, so Appealing? is considered by many to be the first Pop piece. Among a number of popular culture references, Hamilton's collage features images of a body builder, Tootsie Roll Pop, movie poster, and console television-all cutting edge images of 1950s society. Hamilton's piece, as well as the work of Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Oldenburg, was meant as a commentary and critique on the consumeristic society of the post World War II era. Pop artists were, in essence, using images from visual culture to critique the values and beliefs of their viewers.

The study of contemporary visual culture takes this critique to an even more meaningful level by drawing attention to diversity, culture, and the effects of global capitalism on ideologies. In this article, we will discuss the ways that the inclusion of contemporary visual culture can put a contemporary "fizz" on the study of Pop Art in art education classrooms thereby making it more relevant and more exciting for our students of the 21st century.

Culture: Popular, Visual, Art, and Human

The term and idea of culture is often misunderstood and thought of as a static and esoteric entity that is outside of one's lived experience (Ballengee-Morris & Stuhr, 2001). On the contrary, culture is the heritage of the future that provides a dynamic blueprint of how we live our lives. It contains multiple aspects that define us. We have multiple cultures as individuals that include the personal(1) as well as those influenced by U.S. and global identities. U.S. culture is primarily political. It includes the place where cultural beliefs and values are formed, sanctioned, or penalized (Ballengee-Morris & Stuhr, 2001). Pop artists explored U.S. culture's effect on both personal and societal levels. Their art gave people opportunities to continue that exploration within larger settings as they explored consumerism and its effect on society, known today as global culture. Pop Art's history, social, and political contexts are embedded within this visual cultural ideology-everyday objects and images.

Visual culture deals with images from mass media such as television, movies, music videos, computer technology, advertisements, magazines, and newspapers. These images create meaning and a vision of life for today's students and for all of us. "Much of visual culture is the visual arts-all the visual arts" (Freedman & Stuhr, 2000). Visual culture education promotes cultural studies and critical theory (Barrett, 2000; Duncum, 2000; Freedman & Wood, 1999; Neperud, 1995; Trend, 1992). Visual culture is inclusive and challenges the ideology of hierarchal labels such as high and low art. Historically, the Pop Art style and artists intended to make statements about the artworld and the stratification between high and low. In the past, high art referred to primarily Western forms and images, while low art referred to forms and images of folk. Like the Pop artists of the 1960s, contemporary feminist and critical theorists, educators, and multiculturalists are on the forefront of challenging this master narrative.

In the 1960s, visual culture transformed into high art-challenging the viewer and artworld to explore what that means. What is high art transformed into visual culture? One illustration may include the ways that directors and producers of the movie Devil's Advocate appropriated the monumental Creation works (at the main entrance to Washington National Cathedral) of sculptor Frederick Hart. …

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