Modern Equivalents: The Importance of Process

The debate over Lichtenstein’s embrace of the Benday dot and its ensuing relationship and preservation with original processes shines a spotlight on the longevity (or lack there of) of pop art. Upon Lichtenstein’s shift away from comics and re-worked art, the high esteem with which he was originally/commonly associated quickly gave way to a sort of tolerance for increasingly distancing attempts at applying the same tired idea to everything under the sun. This one-trick-pony revelation called into question the tendency for pop art and pop artists to wear out their welcome in their attempts to compound previous successes and commentaries.

“Like many creative figures before and since, Lichtenstein eventually ran his art into the quicksand of a particular style, ending up simply as a mannerist.” – Shanes 41


But how do we react to similar moving image works? How is the implied process behind something as ubiquitous as Legos reminiscent of  both the half-tone Benday dots with the added time consuming complexity of LEGOS+stop motion?

Many of the more interesting chapters of pop art history include the failures and misfirings of many of the movement’s most notable icons. Warhol’s reactionary attempts to purposefully elevate his work to the realm of fine art (in reaction to Johns and Rauschenberg shows in 1958) tend to highlight the degree to which society is/n’t willing to look at itself in the proverbial mirror while also hinting at how the pop art movement lost its perceived purity as it gained more and more traction within mainstream culture. From neo-Dadaism, to sloppy Coke bottles, to a rip off of Lichtenstein’s Benday dot comics, Warhol un/surprisingly struggled with originality while simultaneously embodying an artistic movement built atop associations.

“But if he was a largely associative artist he did possess the rare ability to project huge implications through the mental connections he set in motion (as with the parallels he drew between pictorial repetitiousness and industrial repetitiousness).” – Shanes 44

However, the conundrum of artist originality in an increasingly crowded field (defined by the common) gave rise to an healthy emphasis on (and perhaps newfound respect for) the production process. Perhaps eventually becoming a means of distinguishing one artist from the next, pop art gave rise to a new understanding of industrialized processes and their impacts. The audience’s realization that without knowledge of the processes behind an object’s production ( or even inception) the true meaning of the artwork would be lost, caused audiences to dig a little deeper into the object’s history and simultaneously into their own society’s history.

While much of pop art’s success can be linked to the movement’s insight into greater cultural through-lines, it seems that the use of irony, humorous juxtaposition, and playful critique are key reasons for its original uptake and popularity. However, mass culture is often defined through tragedy and Warhol’s tackling of death and disaster certainly ruffled a few feathers. From his depiction of the FBI’s Most Wanted to the newspaper headline of a recent plane crash, Warhol dominated the headlines in unconventional ways. However, what makes these works resonate in a meaningful manner is the fact that the same artist who was celebrated for his depiction of Cambell soup cans is also the same artist who would depict such somber and ghastly images. It seems that juxtaposition defined much of the pop art movement, not necessarily solely within a single piece but rather across various careers.

Similarly noted in more modern reactions to national tragedy.


Works Cited:

Meslow, Scott. 12 early short films by famous Hollywood directors. The 2013.

Shanes, Eric. Pop Art. New York: Parkstone Int’l.  2009. Print.