Realism versus Pop Art
In this life, there are many forms of art or art “movements” to speak of. How we interpret art is a very subjective thing. What a person sees and feels when looking at art greatly depends on their upbringing, their values, and even their mood at the time of viewing. Could something dark and lacking color be art? What about a comic strip in the newspaper or the billboard down the street? Again, interpretation and taste in art is individual. I elected to explore into the two art movements I like the least to potentially better understand them, and to potentially link them together.
Realism was painted to depict real life situations. It was developed by artists to create an illustration of common people and un-extraordinary circumstance. According to the facts in Wikipedia in regards to Realism, it was an attempt to be as photographic as possible without a camera. Realism was a revolt to the more emotionally driven Romanticism art where fantasy escaped onto canvas via the paintbrush. Realism is truthful, without fancy and ornamentation. Realism first became known in 18th century France after the Revolution, denying the romantic predecessors and focusing more on direct observation of everyday life. Realisms use of ordinary people and places, making things fine art that ought to not be seen and inadvertently coinciding with socialist agendas and working-class uprising made it a quick target of adverse reactions (Finocchio, 2000). While Realism ranges were expansive, from Millets portrayal of rural life and the poor such as Woman with a Rake, to Daumier’s more urban examples such as The Third-Class Carriage, one thing stood true of this art movement: “Realism is an approach to art in which subjects are depicted in as straightforward a manner as possible, without idealizing them and without following rules of formal artistic theory” (artcyclopedia.com). Realism is a very deep art form that makes a person think about what was happening at that time.
Like a photograph, Realism can influence how you think about the time period and helps to create images of what was. Realism art pieces are our scrapbook of the past. By the 1900’s however, Realism was virtually an art of long-ago. Pop Art, as Andy Warhol explains it, is surface art. You do not have to think much beyond what is being seen. It is all there, in your face, and there really isn’t a deep meaning behind any of it. Comic books, advertisements, billboards: all are examples of Pop Art. The Pop Art movement seems to be more about the attitude that led to the art more than the actual art itself. It emphasizes ornamentation and gaudy and uses irony in its depiction of real-life people, places and objects (Wikipedia, 2013).
Pop Art is an extension of Dadaism and was developed in the 1950s. In Britain, its development was due in large to academia “with a focus on the dynamic and paradoxical imagery of American popular culture as powerful, manipulative symbolic devices that were affecting whole patterns of life, while improving prosperity of a society”(Gopnik & Varnedoe, 1990). In the USA, the Pop Art culture developed as a counter to Abstract Expressionism with inspiration coming from true to life, common and everyday scenes. Pop Art set out to blur the lines between what was in good taste and what was fine art. Many people thought that the art was not art at all with its cartoonish feel and bold colors, thick lines, and comic book form. Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans helped pave the way for Pop Art as it depicted popular culture items but was so simplistic it was offensive. Drowning Girl, the cornerstone of Lichtenstein’s career, is a mix of cliché, melodrama, pathos, and absurdity (Morgan, 2007) and represents the intention of Pop Art. Pop Art uses popular culture, real-life ideas, items, people and subjects them to a mix of collage like, kid-art colors and lines. Offensive because the people wondered was this to be our new fine art? Whereas Realism drew from everyday life and strived to not identify its art with anything that could be mistaken as mass media, Pop Art was super-realism, identifying with everything everyday life within pop culture, and celebrated it with vibrant colors and lines not used in Realism. Realism evoked feeling in its everyday life portrayal.
Pop Art is unemotional. Although Pop art was originally stated to come from the revolt to Abstract Expressionism, and a jump off of Dadaism, my thoughts are that the similarities between Pop Art and Realism as extensive. They are related in the fact that they both are based on everyday life scenes. While Realism delved into everyday society, Pop Art did the same with the everyday mass media market. Realism was a jump from Romanticism- a fight of the unnatural belief that everything must be romanticized. Pop art was a jump from Abstract Expressionism- a fight of the unnatural belief that everything should spark emotional thought. Pop artists in Germany are referred to as Capitalist Realism artists and, in France, the Pop Art movement is called Nouveau Realisme, directly translated as New Realism. The very famous Mona Lisa was great inspiration for many other art pieces, but none as famous as itself except for Andy Warhol’s silkscreens of the Mona Lisa. It is said that he was so consumed by the famousness and celebrity that the painting created that he
became obsessed with it for the rest of his life. His creation of his own Mona Lisa pieces, as well as his Jackie series and his Marilyn series and all the series that Warhol created of the many faces of celebrity were inspired by Da Vincis piece. In considering both of the art genres, consider Woman with a Rake and Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe in comparison. They are similar only because each is a depiction of a woman. They are vastly differing because Millets portrayal of a woman is that of a woman working in a field. It is a painting that maybe makes you feel sad for that time frame and is muted, painted in earthy tones. It is not of a woman whom is familiar. This is just a woman working in a field that could be anybody. Andy Warhol’s piece is bright and vibrant and may strike a person as a happy art piece. It depicts a life we are all very familiar with and a woman who was a household name. She is iconic and remembered to this day. The piece though, represents nothing of her, just her face, brightly shone in a surreal color scheme. Historical Realism was a fight to do something new. It was frowned upon and considered to some as offensive because it depicted scenes we did not want to see, because it did not contain beauty. Beauty, however, is in the eye of the beholder.
Today we consider it beautiful and photographic of times gone by. It became our first portraiture. It became popular and sought after. Continuing to fight for new and potentially obtuse but, in the end, desired is a part of everyday existence and it is a struggle all artists face, regardless of the genre. Pop Art, however, opened the door for today’s artist to create art that is not really what historically would be considered art. Because of the Pop Art movement, art was reinvented, almost killed. Silkscreen was introduced to the world as a way to make artistic pieces and be able to accurately mass produce them. Art could now show up on T-shirts, shoes, and underwear even. Ben-day dots, used by Lichtenstein, became more than just a comic book printing form. It was the gateway for artists to drift from fantasy, poetic and muted to commercial, celebrity, mundane, and bright. Art became the use of anything to create it. Neo-Pop, in which artists were repeating the process of its predecessor with new popular culture images in the 80’s, Conceptual Art in which artists might put two chairs on a wall to convey a concept, not convey a feeling, and Photorealism are all considered to be inspired by Pop Art.
According to the www.transmuted.org website, a website that is geared around the performance art movement “Pop art is among the most important visual arts movements of the 20th century … The movement turned the commonplace into icons” (2012,Artist on the Go, p.1). This, by some, is considered a tragic misfortune to the art world. I believe that there is a place for both Realism and Pop Art. Because art interpretation is subjective, people are always going to enjoy some art forms others do not. The similarities between the two art forms convince me that they are realism for all points of view. We have realism for those that want ordinary and for those that want extraordinary.