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 & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal