Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.
-- Andy Warhol
In the 1950s, a group of British artists met regularly to discuss the influence of popular culture on their artworks. Led by artist Eduardo Paolozzi, the group discussed ways to incorporate components of comic strips, advertisements, current films, and packaging design into art. The movement spread to the United States and other countries a few years later, and the artistic genre known as pop art was born. The movement flourished well into the 1960s, launching the careers of artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns.
Pop art takes elements such as corporate logos, product design, cartoons, and other aspects of popular culture and either incorporates them into traditional art scenes, or presents the image in some way on its own. The genre blurs the line between “fine” art and “commercial” art, and highlights how art is present in everyday life. Andy Warhol’s infamous soup can paintings, for example, takes the mundane (cans of Campbell’s soup) and elevates it to the realm of fine art. Roy Lichtenstein’s use of saturated colors, heavy outlines, and ben-day dots are instantly recognizable, and his irreverent spin on comic strips is widely loved – and loathed. Pop art was instantly controversial when it first appeared, and your students may have similar opinions on whether the genre (and its daughter, graphic art) is pure commercialism, or legitimate art in its own right.
With its deceptively simple outlines and mass-produced essence, pop art is generally less intimidating to students than “fine art”. Younger students can create simple repeating designs with bold colors and outlines, while older students can investigate humor, irony, persuasion, or other language arts elements through visual art. The tenets of pop art lend themselves nicely to cross-curricular class discussions on commercialism, consumerism, art as business, and other topics. Below are three resources on pop art for various grade levels, and all are aligned to Common Core standards. I will be featuring many more lessons and activities on pop art throughout the week on the Gateway’s Twitter and Facebook pages, so be sure to give those a look. Have fun! Also, be sure to check out Peggy’s companion column (linked below), where she offers additional ideas on the topic.
Collages and Combines
Subjects: Visual Arts, Art History, Language Arts
American artist Robert Rauschenberg is best known for his Pop-Art, which uses images found in popular culture, such as advertisements, television, famous people, and events. One of his methods was collage, to which he sometimes affixed real objects. Students will study the artwork of Robert Rauschenberg, and create an original collage with written analysis. This lesson is offered by Crayola, which offers hundreds of hands-on lesson plan ideas designed to stimulate independent thinking through visual learning.
What is Popular? Self Portraits in the Style of Roy Lichtenstein
Subjects: Visual Art; Language Arts
This lesson uses the art of Roy Lichtenstein to initiate an examination of popular culture. Students will analyze what is popular today and discuss why they know it is popular. Students will be photographed creatively posing with a popular object of their choosing. Working from this photo, and using primary colors and dramatic text bubbles that characterized the artist’s work, students will create self-portrait in the style of Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. This lesson was produced by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Madison, Wisconsin. The museum offers many arts lesson plans created by subject specialists that highlight works in the museum’s collection.
Exploring Consumerism Where Ads and Art Intersect
Subjects: Visual Arts, Language Arts
Surrounded by a barrage of images, your students are probably savvy consumers who think they know what advertisers are trying to accomplish. Challenge them to explore how aware they actually are by looking at the ways that both ads and art can manipulate viewers. In this lesson, students look at how advertisements use images and language to appeal to consumers. They then look at examples of art that use images from popular culture. Finally, students create their own artistic interpretations of advertisements, present them, and reflect upon the nature of consumerism in their lives. This lesson can be adapted for use in middle school classrooms. This lesson is a product of ReadWriteThink, which presents peer-reviewed free resources in reading and language arts.