Pop the question: The essential A-Z of what makes a Pop artist

Warhol was one. So were Lichtenstein, Blake and even Hockney (for a while). But Emin and Hirst? As a new Tate exhibition claims them for the movement, Kevin Jackson presents his A-Z primer of Pop Art'

A is for America, and advertising

Pop Art was, and is, at least three or four distinct things; probably more. According to the curators of the new Tate Modern show, Pop Life, the essential elements include an unabashed interest in money-making and a genius for brand creation. (Warhol: "Good business is the best art.") This redefinition opens a few gates, and allows the show to embrace plenty of artists not usually regarded as heirs to Pop – Damien Hirst, Martin Kippenberger – as well as more obviously plausible inheritors such as Keith Haring and Jeff Koons. Art-historical purists, who would maintain that Pop was a period phenomenon (glory years: mid-1950s to mid-1960s), will not be happy. But one can see what the Tate people are getting at...

American Pop Art was always a different beast from the British kind. (And European Pop artists wandered so far along their own routes that it often seems perverse to refer to them in the same breath as Jasper Johns, Lichtenstein and co). Main reason: money. The American artists were picking up their themes from the bits and bobs of everyday life, in a country that was suddenly exploding with wealth, and producing and consuming as no society had ever done before: planes, cars, fashions, television sets... British and European Pop artists gazed across the Atlantic from countries that were still largely austere, pinched, monochrome. To the young British artists, 1950s America looked like another planet. Garish, maybe, but gorgeous, too.

Money aside, what were they about? Here's one attempt at summary: American Pop Art took for its subject the visual languages developed throughout the 20th century either to sell products – billboards, colourful packaging, brand logos – or as products in their own rights: pin-ups, movies, comics. It began around 1955, when Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns held their early shows in New York. Pop Art followed hard on the heels of Abstract Expressionism, and for a lot of non-highbrow people, it seemed to be far easier to "get" than the works of Pollock and Rothko. Fun, in fact. It is hardly surprising that an artistic movement which learnt from the seductive ways of advertising should have ended up pleasing countless poster buyers, as well as newly rich collectors.

B is for Britain

British Pop Art – a more theory-driven movement than the American version – is often said to begin with a brace of exhibitions: one in 1953 entitled Parallel of Life and Art, organised by Eduardo Paolozzi (see "P") and Nigel Henderson; and another in 1955, Man, Machine and Motion, curated by Richard Hamilton (see "H"), who became one of the two or three most famous British Pop artists. In a letter written in 1957, Hamilton proposed that Pop Art was "popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous and Big Business".

B is also for Blake (Peter, born 1932), whose most widely seen work of Pop Art was the cover for another kind of pop art – Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Richard Hamilton, Blake's instructor at the Royal College of Art, went on to design the so-called "White Album". Many pop musicians loved Pop Art.

C is for comics

A major inspiration. Paolozzi's I Was a Rich Man's Plaything (1947), a collage of images from American pulp magazines, is cited as the first authentic British work of Pop Art. In America, no one has been so attentive to the potential of comics as Roy Lichtenstein: "I know how you must feel, Brad..."

D is for David Hockney

Like so many of the artists who spent some of their formative years swimming in the currents of Pop Art, Hockney went on to different things; but Pop is decidedly there, in his RCA roots (like Blake, he was taught by Richard Hamilton). Very lively it was, too.

E is for Emin

Tracey Emin a Pop artist? So say the curators of Pop Life. Discuss, with reference to her advertisements for gin.

F is for flags

The most celebrated of countless Pop Art flags is probably Jasper Johns' Flag of 1954 – Old Glory, served pretty much straight up. But there are many variants, by Claes Oldenburg and others. Sophisticated rock musicians such as Pete Townshend knew all about this: hence the proliferation of Union Jack motifs in the mid-1960s.

G is for Red Grooms

Less well known in the UK than it might be, the genial, cartoony world of Red Grooms is well worth a detour.

H is for Hamilton

Richard Hamilton, born 1922, produced the defining work of British Pop Art - the collage Just What is it that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing (1956). Hamilton's output has been large, his influence far-reaching, and not only within the fine-art world: Roxy Music, led by his pupil Bryan Ferry, owed much to Hamilton.

I is for Indiana

From 1964 till last year, Robert Indiana was best known for his one-word picture LOVE, originally created as a Christmas card. In 2008, he revised it into "HOPE", donated it to the Obama campaign, and earned the Democratic candidate's fighting fund more than $1m.

J is for Jasper Johns

Appears in all the reference books on Pop Art, but is actually a neo-Dadaist. Discuss, with reference to his sometime lover Rauschenberg. Once appeared in an episode of The Simpsons, in which he was portrayed as a kleptomaniac. (Hence, a good sport.)

K is for kitsch

Pop artists implicitly suggested that the notion of industrialised bad taste – the subject of jeremiads by cultural critics – was nonsense. To denounce the products of popular "kitsch" was to confess to being prissy and eaten up with status anxiety. The debate has moved on since then. A little.

L is for Lichtenstein

There was a time when no self-respecting student's bedroom was complete without a Lichtenstein poster. Whatever the artist's intentions as a producer, the appeal to the consumer was obvious: having your Coke and drinking it, so to speak. Was it a biting, deadpan satire on the sheer stupidity of popular culture? Or did it revel in the brash primary colours and coarse energies of the comics we all loved when younger? Depends on whom you were trying to get into bed that night.

M is for Marcel Duchamp

Often cited as the grand precursor of Pop Art – and not mistakenly, as a lot of Pop Art took cues from Dada and Surrealism – Duchamp himself seems not to have greatly approved of what the youngsters were doing, and wrote about them witheringly. (Hamilton, incidentally, recreated Duchamp's Large Glass for a Tate retrospective in 1966.)

N is for Nigel Henderson

Photographer of graffiti, curator, pioneering theorist of British Pop. Despite some recent publications, still an underrated figure.

O is for Oldenburg

Claus. Maker of great big objects: clothes pegs, cakes, dribbly cheeseburgers – that sort of thing. Ironist. Probably.

P is for Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

An artist (1924-2005) as large in talent as in person, which is saying a good deal; also charming, generous and greatly missed.

Q is for quotation

One can think of Pop Art as essentially an art of quotation. According to Edward Lucie-Smith in 1974, the Pop artist "...does not re-create, he chooses. His choices are made from among images which have already been, so to speak, processed – not a living girl, but a pin-up in a magazine, not a real tin, a real package, but a tin or package seen in a coloured advertisement or on a poster."

R is for Robert Rauschenberg

Appears in all the reference books as a Pop Artist, but was actually a neo-Dadaist. Compare with "J", his sometime lover Jasper Johns.

S is for science fiction

A major source of inspiration for the British Pop artists. Paolozzi: "It is conceivable that in 1958 a higher order of imagination exists in an SF pulp produced on the outskirts of LA than [in] the little magazines of today..." Richard Hamilton, protesting against the Labour leader's policy on nuclear disarmament, produced one of the few politicised works of early Pop: Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland. But science fiction was also pure fun, as in the figure of Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet, who first popped up, as it were, in a Pop Art context at an influential 1956 exhibition at the Whitechapel...

T is for 'This is Tomorrow'

Here, Robbie took the form of a 17ft cardboard cut-out, holding a starlet in his arms. Other images included Marilyn Monroe and a giant beer bottle. The Pop Art game was afoot!

U is for Underground

The London Underground, that is. Every day, thousands of people walk past Paolozzi's cheery mosaics for Tottenham Court Road Tube station. A splendid example of Pop Art as public art. (Though "U" could also stand for the Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol's most enduring venture into pop music.)

V is for vulgarity

What on earth is that supposed to mean? (See "K is for kitsch".)

W is for Warhol

Campbell's soup, Brillo boxes, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Chairman Mao... A genius? A charlatan? A charlatan of genius? In any case, his flip, throwaway prophecies have trumped both George Orwell and Aldous Huxley in some areas. Neither novelist could have foreseen a Jade Goody. Warhol would not have turned a fake hair.

X is for X-rays

Deployed to polemical effect in the Parallel of Life and Art exhibition. Technology as art, but with a new wrinkle.

Y is for Yves Klein

Was this fascinating, mystical artist and judo expert truly a Pop artist? Yes, say the reference books. One justification for this otherwise baffling claim lurks at the end of our short A-Z...

Z is for Zen

A sensibility which, it is said, filtered into American Pop Art via Rauschenberg, who himself picked it up from the composer John Cage. Is this plausible? Maybe. One reading of Zen wisdom proposes that enlightenment comes from simply observing, without prejudice. It seems a very long way from comic books and Coke cans... but who knows? Perhaps Warhol was an unwitting Zen master.

Pop Life: Art in a Material World is at Tate Modern (020 7887 8888, www. tate.org.uk), London SE1, from Thursday to 17 January. Eduardo Paolozzi: The Jet Age Compendium runs until 1 November at Raven Row, London E1 (020 7377 4300, www.ravenrow.org)

Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tv Review: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series began tonight with a feature-length special
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee