At first sight this statement by Claes Oldenburg might not sound unusual to contemporary ears. But about a generation ago, it definitely did. This comment one could argue reflected the basic thoughts and ‘philosophy’ of a completely new form of art which emerged in the 1960s in America and came to be called ‘Pop Art’. Just as the statement above implies, the overall idea behind Pop Art was based on a thourough affirmation of life itself, which, one can argue, was a characteristic feature of that period.The 1960s were an era of cultural awakening, economic boom and national self-confidence in America. Strengthened by the triumph over nazism and fascism, the US adopted the role of the white knight of democracy and took over the leading position not only in politics and economy but also increasingly in cultural terms. This cultural hegemony however was conceived of as a threat by parts of the European cultural elite and therefore severely criticized.
(Kroes,1996,pp.13-15).Americans, however, responded – and do so even today – to this criticism by underpinning the importance of democracy and its extraordinary role in American society.
They depicted their culture as democratic instead of exclusive and elitist as European culture looked like from an American perspective. (Kroes, 1996, p. 25) This democratic culture, one could claim, is apparent not only in music or media, but is also very much in evidence in the fine arts.The aim of this paper is to show that Pop Art was one cultural expression of this American “democratic ethos” (Kroes,p. 46). It will further discuss in how far Pop Art as part of American culture had an influence on Europe and if the fears and criticisms by European intellectuals of being ‘Americanised’ are justified. Regarding the former aspect of Pop Art being a ‘democratic art’, it seems necessary to first single out the basic features that make art democratic and then to analyse the impact of a democratic character on art itself.Just as the political form of democracy is described by Heywood (2002) as ‘government of, for and by the people’ (p.
76), one could describe the cultural dimension of democracy, as aspired by pop art, as ‘art of, for and by the people’. Thus, one could claim that in order to fullfill these criteria, Pop Art had to abandon certain features of traditional art and create new ones instead. First of all, and maybe most important, was the fact that Pop Art no longer required pre-knowledge, a certain standard of education or much thinking. (Kraui?? e, 1995, p.
114)The objects and images used by Andy Warhol, Roy Liechtenstein and others were primarily those which occupied a central place in consumer society – which was due to commercial advertisement – and were thus familiar to everyone. Thus, almost from one day to the next, Campell’s soup cans became ‘famous’, thanks to Warhol who built a pyramide out of them and granted them status as pieces of art, one could claim, by the following statement: “An artist is someone who produces things which no-one needs, but which he considers worthy of giving to the people for whatever reason.”1 (Ruhrberg et. al. , 2000, p. 323) These things included not only soup cans, but also portraits of Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley or, in the case of Liechtenstein, comic strips, which he took out of their context as part of a story and painted them through a raster in overdimensional size, thereby “monumentalising” them and bringing their simplicity and banality to the fore.
(Kraui?? e, 1995, p. 115) The barriers between art and everyday life had thus been removed. As Warhol, the great figure of Pop Art, put it: “Everything is beautiful. And Pop is everything.” (1981) And, one could claim, as everyday life and its banalities were something that everyone was able to identify with, art did indeed gain a democratic character in so far as no-one who was not an ‘insider’ or educated in art was excluded from understanding and enjoying it, as had been the case in previous times. 2 But not only in such an ‘intellectual’ way did art become democratic. It was also affordable, in monetary terms. The new production techniques such as the “Siebdruck” 3 (i.
e. silk-screen printing), used especially by Andy Warhol, made it possible to produce so-called “multiples” (Krausse, 1995, p.115) i.
e. a great number of one and the same work, resembling industrial mass production of ordinary consumption goods.