Readings, Week 6: Pop Art

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Introduction to Week 6

Welcome to Week 6.

This week, we will explore art itself: what is its purpose and what do we consider to be artistic?

While we will explore aesthetics in general, we will focus on the modern period in art history, the era since World War II, since it has influenced most of what we call pop culture today.

We will go back in time almost seventy years to explore the aesthetic ideology that is the foundation for modern popular culture: the idea of modernity.

Finally, we will see the work of some of Modernism’s greatest proponents, artists who rank among the most influential of the twentieth century.

  • What is art?
  • Background: Aesthetics & Shock art
  • Post-war art: technology & speed
  • Abstract expressionism
  • Pop Art
  • Resistance Art & Co-optation
  • Post-Modernism
  • Important artists: Pollock, Rothko, Rauschenberg, Johns, Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol

What is Art?

Have you ever actually stopped to consider this question? What is art? Each year, I ask this question of students in pop culture classes and I get a blackboard full of responses, capturing a variety of notions from activities to ideas. Many of them are contradictory and incompatible. Yet I encouraged students to realize there are no correct answers. Expression. Meaning. Pleasing to the eye. Paintings. Shock. Makes you think. Sculptures. Frightening. Freedom. Beauty.

Wiki does a good job with this one, breaking down a huge group of human activities into fathomable categories based on a few critical questions. Does the activity result in the creation of objects or images? Are the activities visual arts? Are the activities performing arts?

“Art is a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities; this article focuses primarily on the visual arts, which includes the creation of images or objects in fields including paintingsculptureprintmakingphotography, and other visual media. Architecture is often included as one of the visual arts; however, like the decorative arts, it involves the creation of objects where the practical considerations of use are essential—in a way that they are usually not for a painting, for example. Musictheatrefilmdance, and other performing arts, as well as literature, and other media such as interactive media are included in a broader definition of art or the arts. Until the 17th century, art referred to any skill or mastery and was not differentiated from crafts or sciences, but in modern usage the fine arts, where aesthetic considerations are paramount, are distinguished from acquired skills in general, and the decorative or applied arts.” (Wiki, Art)

A good start. Now, we have to include all those ideas and feelings that you might think belong in a good definition of art. For some folks, art needs to shake you up, shock you a little bit. Marcel Duchamps said that art that didn’t shock was worthless.

Other folks want their art to be beautiful. Aristotle (Poetica) and the Classicists said that art must be aesthetically pleasing. If this were true, most modern and post-modern work would not be worth considering. Yet, as we will see in this week’s focus on modernity, since World War II, much art is not at all aesthetically pleasing. And yet, it is great art. It is demonstrably true that art does not need to be aesthetically pleasing.

There is even a philosophical divide in this regard. People who like their art to be aesthetically pleasing must defend against the assaults of those art critics who suggest that art that does not provoke, shock, or change is not true art.

There is another school of theorists (ie. R.G. Collingwood) who maintain that the arts must be further broken down to separate the ‘crafts’ from the arts.

“Until the 17th century, art referred to any skill or mastery and was not differentiated from crafts or sciences, but in modern usage the fine arts, where aesthetic considerations are paramount, are distinguished from acquired skills in general, and the decorative or applied arts.”  (Wiki, Art)

Definitions

artvisual arts, paintingsculptureprintmakingphotography, Architecturedecorative arts, Musictheatrefilmdance, performing arts, literature, interactive mediathe artscraftssciences, fine artsapplied arts.

Sources

Video

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