Why Not Pop?
The Question that Changed 20th Century art
Here are the first paragraphs of the Work in Progress, subject to change any day.
Heralds of Change
For some years during the supposedly quiescent 1950s, a genie was incubating within American culture; by the time it began drifting out of its bottle and was recognized as more than a fad but a force for drastic change, no one knew how to stuff it back in. An energetic new generation was taking over. Battered in the Depression and disciplined in a brutal world war, this group was better educated and more affluent than any generation in American history; it could afford to take chances. Its creative members were unlike the 1930s radicals, who had banded together to embrace political ideologies – Communism, Socialism, Trotskyism, and even, for some, fascism. The artistic rebels of the 1950s barged into the prevailing culture alone, leaping to the podium at bookstores, in colleges, and into art galleries, preaching … exactly what?
2. Arts Take Center Stage, 1961-1965
The election of John Kennedy and the White House’s strong focus on intellectuals and arts, persuaded a new generation of Americans to become interested in art, perhaps even to buy a work or two for the living room. Bathed in the light of optimism that accompanied the young president’s ascent to power, the heavy, difficult philosophical message of Abstract Expressionist art seemed a bit passé. In a prosperous country, where television and mass magazines coached the newly affluent in upscale behavior and jet set posturing, the public was ready to embrace whatever – and whoever – offered a fresh take on the world, and the illustrations and talking points for discussing it.
3. But Is It Art? 1962-1967
“Pop Art Sells On and On – Why?” was the plaintive headline in May 1964, above John Canaday’s sardonic article in the New York Times Magazine. After five years as chief art critic of America’s newspaper of record, he had a reputation for witty prose as well as an urbane resistance to various art factions that attempted to browbeat his taste. Canaday was also the first Times art critic with a solid background as an art historian. A graduate of University of Texas, he held an M.A. from Yale, had studied at the École Louvre in Paris, taught at Tulane University, directed the Philadelphia Museum of Art Education Division for nine years, and prepared a popular book series, Metropolitan Seminars in Art, for the New York museum. When he joined The New York Times, he was fifty-two years old and steeped in the Modernist canon. Understandably, John Canaday reacted warily to the advent of Pop art. He wondered about the staying power of works he saw as “just something old (commercial art) dusted off and jazzed up.” Still, he noted that the 1964 Biennale was “loaded with Pop,” and the blatant new direction was also “bulldozing its way through the groves of academe.” Pop’s improbable success “transforms the natural shudder of horror,” he wrote, “into the artificially induced frisson of pleasure that … is the first test of a work of art.”
Saturday, June 28, 2008
My friend Alice just left voicemail to let me know that she has her own website which links to all her books and writings--and here's my link to AliceMarquis.com. An excerpt from the Works in Progress section: