The Relationship Between Art and Pop Culture
Art and pop culture have both been important topics that are discussed by people endlessly. They have a close relationship with each other. Art influences pop culture a lot. Meanwhile, pop culture has a huge impact on art. In this project, I would like to examine the relationship between art and pop culture. There are two parts in this paper. In the first part, I look at how art influences pop culture and examine the phenomenon through the case of Girl with a Pearl Earring painting and Girl with a Pearl Earring film. Another case I include is Yayoi Kusama’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton. The second part is how pop culture influences art. In this part, I discuss the phenomenon using the artworks of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Jeff Koons.
“Art is perhaps one of the most pervasive concepts of human existence and influences us in more ways than we can imagine” (Naletelich & Paswan, 2018). Discussion about art and its impact have been continued for decades. The topic is discussed on different occasions. Scholars do researches relating to the topic. Professors and students talk about it in classes. People recommend artworks to each other in informal situations, etc.
Pop culture is what most people care about in daily life. Nowadays there are more and more connections and cross-overs between art and pop culture. How do they influence each other? Does the appropriation of art on pop culture or the appropriation of pop culture on art change people’s view about art or pop culture?
How Art Influences Pop Culture
Art has influenced pop culture in many different ways. In real life, we always see examples showing how art has a huge impact on pop culture. Girl with a Pearl Earring is a painting (oil on canvas) created by Johannes Vermeer, who was a Dutch painter, in about 1665. The size of the painting is 17.5 in x 15 in, and it is now at Mauritshuis, The Hague in Netherlands. In the painting, a young girl who wears yellow clothes and blue and yellow turban, looks back to the viewers. On her left ear, there is a big pearl earring. The artwork traveled to a lot of different places for audiences to view, such as Washington, D.C., Atlanta, San Francisco, New York City, Bologna, and Tokyo.
Picture from: http://basedonthebook.blogspot.com/2017/01/girl-with-pearl-earring-book-vs-film.html
In 2018, a research project The Girl in the Spotlight examined Girl with a Pearl Earring in both micro-scale and macro-scale. “By mixing different pigments, and/or layering different paints on top of each other, Vermeer achieved a wide range of colours with his palette” (Vandivere, Wadum, & Leonhardt, 2020). In the painting, the color yellow, blue, white, red, ivory, and black are main colors. “Vermeer created the illusion of light falling on textured fabrics by applying clusters of small round dots. Blue dots dapple the surface of the headscarf, and yellow dots speckle the Girl’s jacket” (Vandivere, Wadum, & Leonhardt, 2020). The study revealed that “some dots overlap with each other: these double dots further enhance the three-dimensional effect” (Vandivere, Wadum, & Leonhardt, 2020). Since the painting has been existed for more than 300 years, some changes occurred to the painting, both physically and chemically.
Although the painting is very famous today, and plenty of researches and case studies have been done about the painting, we know very little about the story behind the masterpiece. There exist so many questions which need to be answered. The most important ones: who is the girl in the painting? Did she have any relationship with the painter Johannes Vermeer? There are many speculations around the girl’s identity and her relationship with Johannes Vermeer. Many people speculate that the girl is Johannes Vermeer’s eldest daughter Maria Vermeer because Maria’s age in 1665 matches the age of the girls on the painting. Another conjecture is the girl being Magdalena Van Ruijven, the daughter of Pieter Van Ruijven, who was Johannes Vermeer’s patron.
In the 2003 film Girl with a Pearl Earring, the girl is Griet who works as a maid in the painter Johannes Vermeer’s house. The story in the film was adapted from the novel Girl with a Pearl Earring written by Tracy Chevalier. Tracy Chevalier was initially inspired by a poster of Girl with a Pearl Earring. When she was 19, she saw it in her sister’s room and knew that she needed a copy of her own. After she bought her own poster, she takes the poster with her wherever she lives. Tracy Chevalier talked about why Girl with a Pearl Earring has been so “seductive”, not just to her, but also to a lot of other viewers. The first reason is that the painting is very beautiful. Another feature Tracy Chevalier mentioned is that “the girl looks familiar” because “We may not know who she is, but we feel we know her because she is looking at us with such intimacy. We mistake this look for familiarity” (Google Arts & Culture, n.d.). Since the girl in the painting did not face the audience, we cannot see her whole face. Tracy Chevalier insisted that “the painting is not actually a portrait of a particular person, but what the Dutch called a tronie – the head of an ideal “type,” like “a soldier” or “a musician” – or, in this case, “a young beauty”” (Google Arts & Culture, n.d.). The third characteristic is mystery – we know nothing about the girl’s identity and the story behind the painting.
Tracy Chevalier mentioned that the girl’s ambiguous expression made her wonder what happened between the girl and who drew this painting. That is also why she wanted to write the novel – to “explore the mystery of her gaze”, and also, to her, “Girl with a Pearl Earring is neither a universal tronie, nor a portrait of a specific person. It is a portrait of a relationship” (Google Arts & Culture, n.d.).
Tracy Chevalier’s story is about love. The story started with Griet’s family needs her help financially, so she goes to Johannes Vermeer’s house to work as a maid. She works really hard. Griet is curious about the world behind the half-open door – Vermeer’s studio, which she is supposed to clean. Vermeer was very good at painting, but his family still experiences financial difficulties sometimes. Vermeer’s wife Catharina is always angry about their financial difficulties and even destroyed one of Vermeer’s painting. After that, Vermeer does not want her to be in his studio. Vermeer and Griet start to have conversation about art and painting. Vermeer even teaches Griet how a camera obscura works. Griet is the only person in that house that Vermeer talks with about the art and painting. Van Ruijven, who is Vermeer’s patron notices Griet and wants Vermeer to draw a painting on him and Griet together. Vermeer refuses but would like to draw a painting of Griet alone. Vermeer pierces Griet’s left ear and put the pearl earring on her to finish the painting. The pain from the ear piercing and her feelings about Vermeer make the expression on Griet’s face complicated. Catharina is very angry about Vermeer’s painting and his relationship with Griet. She tries to destroy the painting but does not succeed. Then she asks Griet to leave the house, which Vermeer does not oppose. After Griet left the house, another servant from Vermeer’s house visits Griet and brings her the pearl earrings as a gift.
The novel and the film were both popular and successful. Many people were moved by this story. Since then, a lot of audiences started to view the original painting of Girl with a Pearl Earring through the lens of romance and love. When they see the painting somewhere, maybe in the museum or on a copy in a magazine, they see Griet and her sad love from the story. This makes me wonder, what if the novel or the film had told another story, in which the relationship between Griet and Vermeer was not romance but some other connections? What if the girl is Vermeer’s daughter or his patron’s daughter, just like what people speculate? Will this change people’s views about the original painting?
Tracy Chevalier’s story is completely fictionalized, based on her understanding and interpretation of the painting. Other people may understand or interpret it differently. However, what we can learn from this example is that, art influences people and pop culture. Even if it is a painting created over three centuries ago, Girl with a Pearl Earring still gives the writer the inspiration to write the story. Then it reaches more audiences via the fictionalized story. There are a lot of merchandise on today’s market relating to Girl with a Pearl Earring, such as posters, mugs, postcards, tote bags, and etc. The original painting and its painter Johannes Vermeer gained more and more viewers, and people in increasing number are curious and interested in the painting.
Girl with a Pearl Earring is not the single case. There are a lot of masterpieces included in the media like films. Some paintings are just decorations in films while other artworks serve as important cues. For instance, the film The Da Vinci Code uses Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings as cues throughout the film.
Art does not just have influences on media like film or TV shows. It also has an important impact on fashion and business. The Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama collaborated with Louis Vuitton in 2012. The collection “includes an extensive range of shoes, bags, dresses, and scarves, all reflecting Kusama’s distinctive aesthetic” (Swanson, 2012). Louis Vuitton’s former creative director Marc Jacobs, who has his own fashion brand now, visited Yayoi Kusama in Tokyo in 2016. They discussed shared attitudes, opinions, and how they both believe that there lacked a “distinction between what they make and who they are” (Swanson, 2012). Yayoi Kusama and Marc Jacobs respected each other’s attitudes towards both art and fashion. They collaborated on not just the merchandise, but also Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective art show.
According to Lisa Armstrong, “The Louis Vuitton collaboration with Yayoi Kusama is, apparently, its most successful art union ever, which probably means it’s the most successful art-fashion union of all time” (Armstrong, 2012). The merchandise they made were sold out repeatedly. Selfridges also invited and welcomed the collection into its store on Oxford Street. This huge success demonstrated that art and fashion can collaborate with each other and create values of their own.
Picture from: https://www.dezeen.com/2012/08/30/louis-vuitton-kusama-concept-store-at-selfridges/
Yayoi Kusama’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton is not the only case that art influences fashion. More and more designer brands want to include art in their new collection to attract customers. According to Kim Winser, “over the years, art and fashion have enjoyed a rich relationship, sometimes bold and brazen, often more understated, yet always stretching way beyond the boundaries of geography to bring global influences to our wardrobes” (Winser, n.d.). In her article The Love Affair Between Fashion and Art, Winser used Yves St Laurent’s distinguished 1965 shift dress, which replicated “Piet Mondrian’s renowned primary-colored block print, highlighted the relevance of cubist art in popular culture in the sixties” as an example to demonstrate how designers get inspiration from art (Winser, n.d.).
Henrik Hagtvedt and Vanessa Patrick examined the phenomenon “art infusion” in their research Art Infusion: The Influence of Visual Art on the Perception and Evaluation of Consumer Products in 2008. Art infusion refers to the “general influence of the presence of art on consumer perceptions and evaluations of products with which it is associated” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). In three different studies, they investigated art infusion phenomenon in packaging, advertising, and product design.
In the first study, they conducted the research at a restaurant. The researchers prepared two sets of silverware in black velvet boxes. On the front face of one set, there appears Vincent van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night, which represents an art image. On the front face of the other set, there is a photograph of a typical Café which was taken at night. This photograph represents a non-art image. The result of this study showed that “the art image led to higher product evaluations than the nonart image, demonstrating the art infusion effect” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008).
In the second study, they wanted to “demonstrate the content independent nature of the art infusion phenomenon—that is, that the influence of visual art does not depend on what is depicted in the artwork but rather on general connotations of luxury associated with the artwork” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). In the study, 107 undergraduate students participated and answered to questionnaires relating to the art infusion phenomenon in advertising. They were randomly assigned to three different bathroom fittings advertisements which contained Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, a poster of the film Girl with a Pearl Earring featuring Scarlett Johansson dressing the same with the girl in the original painting and posing the same gesture, or no image respectively. The results of the study showed that “the product in the advertisement with the art image was evaluated more favorably than the product in the advertisement with the nonart image or with no image” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008).
In the third study, Henrik Hagtvedt and Vanessa Patrick used soap dispensers as their stimulus. They put three different images on the soap dispensers. The first one is “an artwork with positive content” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). The artwork they chose was Claude Monet’s “Palazzo da Mula (depicting buildings overlooking a Venetian canal)” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). The second one was “J.M.W. Turner’s painting The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons (October 16, 1834; depicting the violent image of burning buildings on the banks of the River Thames” which referred to the “artwork with negative content” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). The third one they chose was “a photograph with content similar to that of the positive artwork”, which was “a photograph of buildings overlooking a Venetian canal” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). The researchers recruited seventy-six undergraduate students for this study. The participants were randomly assigned to one of the three groups (group with Monet’s painting, group with Turner’s painting, and group with the photograph) and were given a photograph of one of three soap dispensers. After they viewed the photograph, there were asked to answer the questions about the product. The results of the study showed that “participants evaluated products with art (both Monet and Turner) more favorably than products without art (Canal), lending support to the content-independent nature of the art infusion effect” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). In this study, no matter what the content of the art is, positive or negative, the soap dispensers with art image on it were rated more favorably than the soap dispenser with non-art image on it. There was no huge difference between the rating of the soap dispenser with Monet’s painting (positive artwork) and Turner’s painting (negative artwork), which showed what mattered was not the content but being art.
In another research Art infusion in retailing: The effect of art genres, Kelly Naletelich and Audhesh K. Paswan examined how different art genres impact “the relationship between purchase intention and its antecedents (shopper, store and product characteristics)” (Naletelich & Paswan, 2018). The researchers contacted the research using online survey. The research concludes that “presence of art, especially abstract art, does influence the relationships between purchase intention and its determinants” (Naletelich & Paswan, 2018). Naletelich and Paswan discussed it in detail with different art genres. “In the presence of abstract art, all three consumer centric factors, i.e., hedonic and utilitarian motivation, and openness to art, the fact that the consumers made the choice, and product aesthetics are positively associated with purchase intention” while “the presence of realist art had a very lack luster effect. Only product aesthetics and product symbolism was positively associated with purchase intention” (Naletelich & Paswan, 2018). Last but not least, “when art is absent, purchase intention is positively associated with hedonic motivation, store atmosphere, store’s social environment, and product aesthetics, but negatively with utilitarian motivation” (Naletelich & Paswan, 2018).
Some people think that putting art in pop culture is beneficial to both art and pop culture. For art, this phenomenon can attract more audiences to the original artwork and learn about it. For pop culture, art brings inspirations and also attracts more consumers. However, some people do not think it is a good idea to combine them together. When we talk about the phenomenon that art has been combining with pop culture and putting on merchandise and market, we cannot avoid the topic of reproduction of art, especially the viewpoints that Walter Benjamin upheld.
Walter Benjamin talked about technological reproducibility in his well-known article The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility. He mentioned that, “In principle, the work of art has always been reproducible. Objects made by humans could always be copied by humans. Replicas were made by pupils in practicing for their craft, by masters in disseminating their works, and, finally, by third parties in pursuit of profit”, however, technological reproduction is something different (Benjamin, 1936). Walter Benjamin insisted that “In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art-its unique existence in a particular place. It is this unique existence-and nothing else-that bears the mark of the history to which the work has been subject” (Benjamin, 1936). He also argued that “The here and now of the original underlies the concept of its authenticity” and “The authenticity of a thing is the quintessence of all that is transmissible in it from its origin on, ranging from its physical duration to the historical testimony relating to it. Since the historical testimony is founded on the physical duration, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction, in which the physical duration plays no part. And what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object” (Benjamin, 1936). Benjamin insisted that the technological reproducibility devalues the artworks’ “aura”, which refers to “a quality integral to an artwork that cannot be communicated through mechanical reproduction techniques – such as photography” (Tate, n.d.).
How Pop Culture Influences Art
Not only does art influences pop culture, pop culture also influences art. Artsy, an art website which spread, buy and sell art online, once interviewed 17 artists about the films that have huge impact on them. Among them, the French artist Pauline Curnier Jardin mentioned The Passion of Joan of Arc, a 1928 film to be her “inner sanctum”, which “had a magical function in my life” (Jardin, 2017, as cited in Indrisek, 2017). She elaborated, “It operated like a kaleidoscope for me, and it taught me that masterpieces can be created out of radical oppositions: formal ones, but also philosophical and political oppositions. It taught me that a film could be sacred poetry. It’s a film cult and a cult film, a film of faces and masks, a skin-film, a totally grotesque and entirely profound movie. The Passion of Joan of Arc doesn’t end with its main subject burned. It contains a fire that will burn anyone already burning inside” (Jardin, 2017, as cited in Indrisek, 2017).
Andy Warhol, who liked to use figures from pop culture to create art, was a famous artist in pop art. According to The Museum of Modern Art, “Andy Warhol famously appropriated familiar images from consumer culture and mass media, among them celebrity and tabloid news photographs, comic strips, and, in this work, the widely consumed canned soup made by the Campbell’s Soup Company” (MoMA, n.d.). One of his most well-known artworks is Campbell’s Soup Cans, which consists of 32 canvas with the soup cans on them. 32 canvas represent 32 different flavors of the soup that Campbell’s company produced. The dimensions of each canvas are 20 inches by 16 inches. The artwork is now at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. “An earlier, single canvas version (Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato) sold through Christie’s Auction house in 2010 for over $9 million” (Miller, 2012). Faced the question of why he drew paintings about soup cans, Andy Warhol answered, “I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years, I guess, the same thing over and over again” (MoMA, n.d.).
Picture from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbell’s_Soup_Cans
Andy Warhol was inspired by a product that many people see in their life to create the artwork. According to The Museum of Modern Art, “When he first exhibited Campbell’s Soup Cans in 1962, the canvases were displayed together on shelves, like products in a grocery aisle” (MoMA, n.d.). “At the time, Abstract Expressionism, featuring artists such as William de Kooning, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko, and privileging human emotion, painterly styles, and “fine art” aesthetics, was the movement to watch. Pop Art by contrast embraced mundane commercialism” (Miller, 2012).
There are arguments about if Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans should be counted as art. According to Michael Fallon’s book How to Analyze the Works of Andy Warhol, when his first show was displayed in Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, “Another gallery close to the Ferus Gallery ridiculed warhol’s art” (Fallon, 2010, p28). The gallery brought many real soup cans in their gallery. Audiences in their gallery were encouraged to buy those soup cans with a very low price (Fallon, 2010). However, later, Campbell’s Soup Cans brought huge success to Andy Warhol and his career.
Discussion about Campbell’s Soup Cans continues today. Some people like it so much while others may not get the idea. People are still discussing Andy Warhol’s work on different discussion boards or forums.
Andy Warhol did not just work on everyday products that people can find in grocery stores. He also created artworks about famous figures. Another well-known artwork created by Andy Warhol is the portraits of Marilyn Monroe (1967), who was one of the most famous and popular movies stars in 1950s and 1960s. Marilyn Monroe has been an important figure in the history of American film industry. Andy Warhol used different colors to paint Marilyn Monroe’s portraits. There are ten portraits in total. Each portrait is 36 inches by 36 inches. The original photograph of Marilyn Monroe is from the 1953 film Niagara. This artwork has important impacts on both pop art and the society.
Picture from: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/61239
Having a lot of other artworks, Andy Warhol is famous for his ability as an artist and sensitivity to capture who matters to people during a specific time period. Inspired by pop culture, Andy Warhol created artworks and spread pop art to the public. From Andy Warhol’s artworks and stories, it is clear that pop culture can influences art in a very important way.
Claes Oldenburg is another well-known artist and sculptor. He is famous for his sculptures, most of which amplifies objects from daily life, like spoon or ice cream. Claes Oldenburg has done different kinds of artworks. Right now, his over-sized sculptures really attract audiences’ attention. When he was interviewed by Barbara Rose, he said, “they kept getting larger. The first architectural-scale sculpture came in 1976 with the Clothespin in Philadelphia” (Rose, 2015). Claes Oldenburg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen, who was also his partner in art, traveled a lot. They did not just build sculptures inside the US. They created artworks in many countries, such as Germany, France, Italy, Japan and South Korea.
Picture from: https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/shuttlecocks-claes-oldenburg-and-coosje-van-bruggen/0QGRtnVFsCMZIQ
Shuttlecocks is one of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s over-sized sculptures, which locates in the front of Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen got inspired by normal shuttlecocks and created these over-sized ones. Dropped Cone is another artwork of his and Coosje van Bruggen’s. It is an over-sized dropped ice cream on the top of a building, which is very impressive. The sculpture is now in Neumarkt area, Cologne, Germany.
Picture from: https://www.wikiart.org/en/claes-oldenburg
Claes Oldenburg likes to create artworks based on everyday objects. People may see those objects every day. However, when Claes Oldenburg changes its size and texture, everything feels differently. Based on objects from everyday life, Claes Oldenburg provides his audiences with completely different and new experiences when they see his sculptures. According to himself, “My rule was not to paint things as they were. I wasn’t copying; I was remaking them as my own” (Rose, 2015).
Claes Oldenburg’s artworks give us evidence that pop culture can influences art. Artists can get inspiration from everyday objects and build artworks upon them.
Another famous artist needs to be mentioned is Jeff Koons, who is famous for his artworks relating to pop culture. Same with Claes Oldenburg, Jeff Koons created many artworks based on objects from daily life. One of his most popular artworks is the Balloon Dog, which is a sculpture made from stainless steel and the surface is mirror-finish. Jeff Koons created it based on balloon animals, which always attracts children’s attention at theme parks. Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog is 121 inches by 143 inches by 45 inches. It does not just come with the color blue. Jeff Koons also have it in magenta, yellow, orange, and red (Jeff Koons, n.d.). From the appearance, it looks a lot like the real balloon animal. But the size is much bigger than the real one.
According to The New York Times, in 2019, “at the contemporary auction at Christie’s in New York, where a stainless steel rabbit by Jeff Koons sold for $91 million, setting a record price for work by a living artist” (Schrager, 2019). Artworks like Jeff Koons’ balloon animal series are very popular now. Audiences are curious about them and the market is interested in them, both of which make the artwork more and more expensive in the market. However, this also creates problems. Only the people who are very wealthy have the ability to collect the artworks. “This growing inequality threatens to upend how the market works. The small and midsize galleries that have long supported and nurtured unknown artists are finding it difficult to survive in the winner-take-all economy of contemporary art, meaning the next Andy Warhol or Donald Judd, who rose through the ranks of the gallery system, might never be discovered” (Schrager, 2019). That is to say, this phenomenon is harmful to both small and midsize galleries and the unknown artists. Small and midsize galleries plays an essential role in nurturing the new artists by “mentor their artists, supporting them financially, introducing them to collectors and sometimes steering their work” (Schrager, 2019). Therefore, the extremely high price of the artworks drives many small and midsize galleries out of the market, which lead to smaller space for unknown artists’ development.
Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Jeff Koons all get inspirations from everyday objects and created artworks based on them. Their artworks, experiences, and stories are the evidences that pop culture has huge impacts on art.
Based on the discussion above, it is clear that art and pop culture have a close relationship in which they influence each other. Using the original painting of Girl with a Pearl Earring and the film Girl with a Pearl Earring as an example, it can be concluded that art, even from centuries ago, can inspire artists to create new stories. The novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, the basis of the film with the same name, was completely fictionalized by its author. The story and the relationship between the girl in the painting and the painter Johannes Vermeer are both fictionalized. After viewing this film, many audiences change their thoughts or generate new thoughts about the original painting.
Yayoi Kusama’s successful collaboration with Louis Vuitton shows that the art can inspire fashion and they can work together to create new products. Many customers will be interested in the product because it comes from art.
Pop culture also influences art. Through the examination of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Jeff Koons’s artworks, we can see that many artists are inspired by the objects from daily life. They get inspirations and create artworks based on those everyday objects. Audiences can recognize the objects based on which the artwork is created and then enjoy it. This appropriation phenomenon gives audiences a new experience interacting with artworks.
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