Pop Art is an artistic movement that began in England in the mid-1950s. Although the movement still thrives today in countries like Japan, most critics would say it peaked sometime in the mid-1960s. The movement is closely philosophically related to Lowbrow art, the Op Art movement, and Dadaism (and was in fact called "Neo-Dada" by some); in Pop Art, the pretension of abstract expressionism is undercut in favor of a juxtoposition of the epic and the common, often making use of familiar images in extreme ways (for example, turning a Campbell's Soup can into an iconic, almost reverential image). Pop art is (in the words of British Pop-Artist Richard Hamilton) "popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business."

The term "Pop Art" was coined by Lawrence Alloway in 1958, when he wrote about the artwork of Hamilton and several other London-based artists. Hamilton's collage work Just What Is It that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing? is considered by many to be the first true Pop Art. As would be true later of other Pop works, JWIITMTHSDSA? made use of magazine and advertisement photographs, in this case constructing an absurd and surreal interior scene.

Although there were many Pop-artists and many more who ventured briefly into Pop-Art, there are four artists who are most widely regarded as the most influential, and, well, Popular. Ladies and gentlemen, I present:

Robert Rauschenberg
Rauschenberg was born in 1925 and attended art schools in North Carolina, New York and Paris after a stint in the Marines during WWII. He began working as a window display designer for Tiffany's in New York and showing color field paintings. Some time in 1954 he caused a stir in the artist community by erasing a drawing by expressionist painter Willem DeKooning--while it was on display. In 1955 he moved into a neighborhood very close to Jasper Johns, who we'll meet in a moment. He began drawing illustrations for Dante's Inferno, and in 1960, he met Marcel Duchamp. At one point during this time he ran out of canvas and painted his bed. Not the frame--I mean he painted his sheets. It looks pretty cool, actually. He began to choreograph dance troupes and became interested in lithography. More recently, he became involved in providing funding for artists and tax relief for non-profit art organizations.

Jasper Johns
Johns was born in 1930, and is probably the artist best described as "Neo-Dadaist." Although like most pop artists, Johns used iconic images in his art (most famously the American flag), he focused largely on irony, paradox, and contradictions, much like Duchamp and many other Dadaists. He often made use of a very painterly style when constructing his iconic images, in no small way to mock the "hero-artist" image of indexical painters like Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning. He appeared on an episode of The Simpsons as himself, a role in which he gleefully mocked his own obsession with everyday items by playing a kleptomaniac.

Roy Lichtenstein
Born in 1923, Lichtenstein attended Ohio State University after three years in the military during WWII. He was hired by the university after graduation and worked there for ten years. He had one exhibition in New York at this time, meeting with some success. His early art was generally cubist-esque restylings of preceding artwork, but before long he had met Claes Oldenburg, and was beginning what would be his signature style in the next decade: massive Benday Dots--a semi-pointillist style of coloring used in pulp comics of the 1950s. This style (named for illustrator Benjamin Day- ha ha) used four colors of dots (black, cyan, magenta, yellow) and overlayed them to create the illusion of a variety of colors. Lichtenstein exaggerated this look by blowing up images of comics to massive proportions (often well over ten feet on a side). This practice earned him the ire of the artists whose work he enlarged, but his claim was that he was honoring the art "all around us." Lichtenstein died in 1997.

and of course...

Andy Warhol
I will not attempt to re-re-hash Warhol's life. There are several excellent writeups about him at Andy Warhol. As far as Pop Art is concerned, however, Warhol is the king--or rather, the prince. Dubbed the "Prince of Pop," Warhol not only directed his artistic vision to the mundane and the everday, but began using a screen-printer and hired assistants in order to turn the art into something common itself. His New York base of operations was even nicknamed The Factory. He produced paintings (using media as varied as foil and urine), sculpture, and film (including a one-shot film of a man receiving oral sex and an eight-hour movie of the Empire State Building being the Empire State Building). He thought of art as a business, and due in no small way to his shameless self-promotion, was one of the most sought-after portraitists of his time, producing images of Liz Taylor, Michael Jackson, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and many others.