The Progression of Pop Art

Table of Content

Throughout the era of the 1960s, revolutionary changes began occurring in society at this time. A number of historical and societal events, such as consumer culture, the Vietnam War, and changes in gender dynamics led to abundant shifts within the artistic community, especially in regards to artists and their individual pieces, respective influences, and inevitable interpretations. At the height of this Pop Art movement, one artist in particular, Roy Lichtenstein, conveys his perspective of the events of this historic era through his unique artistic style. Each piece contains subliminal messages, ironic characters, and outlandish situations that gives immense insight regarding the ever-changing society and culture surrounding him at this evolving time.

The 1960s era within the United States proved to be one riddled with dynamic change and social reform coupled with reservations stemming/originating from the 1950s. Throughout the 1950s, a wave of newfound consumerism washed over the United States. Following the conclusion of World War II, women returned to the home after serving in the workforce in aiding the war effort, men returned home to their wives following their fight in the war, and a booming of children soon followed. As a result, the 1950s were characterized as a time of conformism: within the country, the home, and within the self. ADD As the war effort came to a close, an emphasis on consumer culture and a general push for affluence began to arise. ADD QUOTES No longer were families living on rations and conserving materials, rather, the 1950s placed an emphasis on having the latest technologies within the home and fashions among each individual, primarily women. As the home became more technological advanced with the latest models of dishwashers, refrigerators, vacuums, and televisions, it became a central location for the family unit, especially for the mother. As husbands began to return to the workforce within the societal sphere, women began to return to domestic life within the home. Her tasks included looking after the home, her children, and her husband as she fulfilled her role within the domestic sphere, all while residing solely in the home and looking immaculate in the latest fashions.

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Talk About How the War Effort in Vietnam Changes Things

This emphasis placed on the idea for separate spheres for women and men soon began to fade with the onset of the ideologies and evolving social climates of the 1960s. As the surrounding society began to reach a pinnacle of abundance and affluence as a result of “dramatic postwar economic growth”, a revival of “evolutionary and progressive ideas” began to occur by the early 1960s (contradiction 44). At the start of the 1960s, rising numbers of women were obtaining paid jobs, collegiate educations, and even entering various career fields, all while raising their children. As these trends progressed towards the emancipation of women from the domestic sphere began occurring, the notions of traditional marriage and domestic life began to falter. As more and more women became educated, their interest in an involvement in social spheres drew “millions of women into the paid labor force, and civil rights. . .had revived the politics of democratization” (No Turning Back 5). In addition to newfound demands for equal economic and political rights, women began to advocate for reproductive and sexual freedom, something unheard of within the age of the domestic goddess that was emphasized in the 1950s. ADD quote from Xv in age of contradiction about women becoming more educated and wanting to participate more in social spheres. Through this rise of radical thinking and action that sought to rethink the social order ruled by conformity of the 1950s, a new art movement was established. The developing consumerism as well as the evolving repressive social climate dominated all aspects of America post World War II, including American art.

The first category discusses how the 1960s are a time of “cultural revolution” as a result of the rise of “activists, thinkers, and artists who sought to rethink and even outrun . . . a stifling social order ruled by conformity.”

As this article continues, it states that this newfound activism stems from the Vietnam War protests, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Women’s Liberation Movement. Thus the spark for equality and social justice emerges. The art of this time period begins to reflect this radical way of thinking and self-expression. The artists of this era took inspiration from everyday objects, consumerism, and mass media as well. They also begin “downplaying the artist’s hand and subverting the idea of originality” and they “favor realism, everyday imagery, and heavy doses of irony and wit.” These pages discuss how these artists “sought to connect fine art traditions with pop culture elements from television, advertisements, films and cartoons.”

The principal of the Pop Art movement blurs the boundaries between art and culture and inevitably “searches for traces of trauma in the mediated world of advertising, cartoons, and popular imagery.” This idea of focusing on various trauma, societal influences, and pop culture in the mediated world is also visibly evident in the works of Roy Lichtenstein.

By the late 1940s, Lichtenstein begins to exhibit his art in galleries nationwide, most importantly in Cleveland and in New York City. By the early 1960s, he begins to change his style and experiments further while he is teaching at Rutgers University. His newer experimental works are “both a commentary on American popular culture. . .[and take] imagery directly from comic books and advertising.” As a result, he becomes widely known for his “deadpan humor and his slyly subversive way of building a signature body of work from mass-produced images.”

By the mid-1960s, Roy Lichtenstein becomes nationally recognized as a founder and leader of this Pop Art movement. He subsequently becomes placed on the same level as other popular and successful Pop Art innovators at this time including Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, and Claes Oldenburg and many others who turned “common object, popular culture, or the mass media as the underlying theme of their paintings and sculpture” (Roy 3). At this point in his career, instead of creating pieces that are entirely original to him, he begins to mimic the stencil styles that mirror the mechanical printing process that are typically reserved for commercial art such as comic books. ADD more about the process he uses itself

Roy Lichtenstein takes inspiration from a variety of sources throughout the continuation of his career. During the 1960s, he looks to comic books, the defined differences and characteristics between men and women, gender dynamics, and pop culture as he “found his inspiration. . .in the world around him” (Roy 5). Comic books are a common source in this decade’s consumer culture, and they feature common and stereotypical themes of war, romance, and separate gender spheres due to the heavy influence World War II has on this era. The narrative structures of comic books allows for a structured representation/media to allow Lichtenstein to construct, contain, and fulfill the “desires, anxieties, and satisfactions that in the United States of the 1950s constituted a normative view of masculinity and femininity” (Taste 103). Lichtenstein clearly does not invent his painting’s scenes. Instead, he selects familiar and easily recognizable standard types of scenes from the 1950s that are directed towards the growing market. These scenes romanticize both war and relationships amongst the youth of this era, so he takes these popular scenes and depictions and inevitably crafts them into his own artworks. Even though the majority of comic books at this time are directed towards a predominantly male audience, Lichtenstein chose his subjects evenly— he chooses an equal amount of both male and female subjects. However, he seems to slightly favor the romantic, female-driven comic books and character types. With these comic-book inspired paintings and prints, Lichtenstein effortlessly ties high art and consumer culture together and highlights the way these gender roles are represented in this society—men fight valiantly and win wars and battles while women stay in the home, fall in love, inevitably marry and dominate the domestic sphere.

In his war artworks such as Okay, Hot-Shot! from 1963, the Live Ammo series from 1962, and Whaam! From 1963, his male personas are young, muscular, and clean-shaven. They are “action-oriented heroes in inhospitable places” that are depicted in war zones with the addition of artillery, tanks, explosions, and an abundance of diverse enemies surrounding them. One example of this masculinity-driven artwork is titled O.K. Hot Shot from 1963. This is an oil and manga painting on canvas that features a heroic pilot exclaiming “OKAY, HOT-SHOT, OKAY! I’M POURING!” as he is being chased and attacked by an enemy plane. The Live Ammo series of pieces features the external actions and internal reflections of a soldier in the midst of a raging battle. The strip features abundant action including guns blazing, tanks booming, and an airplane speeding off into the sky. In Whaam!, that same common theme of explosions, aircrafts, and flames remain apparent yet again. These male creations in each of these pieces do not show any anxiety or fear like their female counterparts. Instead, their masculine, chiseled features are focused into a grimace of fury as they confidently attack and evade their various enemies. These scenes are full of action which is evident through its use of bright and bold colors such as vivid red, yellow, and black with a silvery grey backgrounds that greatly contrasts with these other striking colors. This choice of these prominent colors reflect the masculinity of the images themselves—both the colors and the subject matter reflect the aggressive and bold nature of both men and war.

On the other hand, his female personas are young, attractive, and polished. They are featured in a variety of domestic settings such as homes, offices, beaches, backyards, shopping areas, and many more. They often depict women who embody “the ideal 1950s figure, the domestic and domesticated woman, whose life revolves around the home and who never questions her existence” (Roy 113). This caricature of a woman deriving from this 1950s stereotype remains at the pinnacle of Roy Lichtenstein’s’ most coveted, beloved, and well-known pieces. These women are portrayed as completely content with the role of a domestic goddess assigned to them by the male-dominated society that engulfs their very existence. This version of the ‘ideal’ woman was drilled into the consciousness by both society and the media’s representation of women at this time, and Roy Lichtenstein featured this stereotype within a number of his most famous pieces as a way to subvert and comment on this issue.

Unlike the more masculine and action-oriented depictions, these feminine portraits are more subdued and emotional and lack the unrelenting fury and confidence that are found in the masculine portraits thus reflecting how women are viewed at this time. Unlike the masculine scenes where there is a complete scene with the male character featured, the female depictions feature “overwrought emotion. . .to highlight the tense, anxious female face alone” so with this focus, the emphasis is placed on the woman herself rather than a scene occuring around her (A Taste 110). The women are emotional and introverted and are confined by their internal voices while the men are external and project their emotions toward their outward surroundings. This clear division Lichtenstein conveys further emphasizes the established social and behavioral line between men and women. The men in Lichtenstein’s paintings are portrayed as victorious and confident as they emerge from battle while the women in his paintings are drowning in their anguish, anxiety, and despair, which manifests in the literal sense in Drowning Girl from 1963, The Engagement Ring from 1961, and Forget It! Forget Me! from 1962, and The Kiss from 1962.

Drowning Girl is an oil on canvas painting that depicts a young, attractive woman crying as she drowns in the abundant waves that are engulfing her. The colors that are used in this particular painting are more subdued in tone compared to O.K. Hot Shot. The only “bright” color in this portrait is the oceanic dark blue that is ironically used to color the young woman’s perfectly styled hair rather than the ocean itself, but even this color is dulled. However, this blue is starkly contrasted with the other grey-toned colors that are used in the water surrounding her. Her skin and her tears are the same faint purplish-gray in tone, and this is contrasted by the black that outlines her figure and the waves. The anguished thought bubble above her reads: “I DON’T CARE! I’D RATHER SINK THAN CALL BRAD FOR HELP!” which connotes her anxiety, uncertainty, and exaggerated despair. In The Engagement Ring,

Even though Roy Lichtenstein’s paintings depicting these cartoonish women appear to be stereotypical and offensive in nature, they are in fact the complete opposite. These defined gender roles and dynamics that Lichtenstein paints are those that are found in the fictional realm of comic books. Instead of defending these societal viewpoints and standards, he is actually exaggerating this fictitious world and is exhibiting how unrealistic, outlandish, and absurd these stereotypes truly are by bringing these issues to the foreground of society by incorporating it into this growing, revolutionary art movement. A a result, he utilizes these sharp images as a means of protest art. The woman featured in Drowning Girl may appear desperate for help, but she emphasises that she would rather drown that get assistant from a man, in this case Brad. These feelings of hopelessness and anxiety are not attributed to her immediate situation but rather to the larger situation that is occuring around her within this decade—the breaking of gender roles and expectations. Even though she appears polished and put together like a woman of the 1950s, she does not accept the notion that men take charge of every situation.

Art Pieces to Discuss Regarding Roy’s

Inspiration: figure 32 pg 101 in Taste, fig 33 105, Engagement ring of 1961-trabadaton with the traditional convention of marriage, evolving times of female independence and freedom, no longer want to be tied down to separate spheres and past societal conventions

Like the war portraits, the female artwork counterparts also were derived by lichtenstein from other various comic strips.

Each of Roy Lichtenstein’s war pieces were derived from traditional comic strips released that same year.

– abrazzos version fits in line with traditional gender roles and love in 1950s but Roy perverts this same image and gives it a more 1960s revolutionary tag line in regards to the girl rather drowning than seek a man for help—further emphasizing the dramatic turn and desperate desire for female independence

Took traditional styles and art from the 1950s, remade pieces, borrowed style from comic books to create pieces that people were vastly familiar and comfortable with, but he redid them by giving them more modern and impactful subliminal messages for female independence and stepping away from this visual gender dynamic. By highlighting the general irony and common accepted art and using it to show how ridiculous these notions were

This form of artistic comic-style media was even featured in various coupon advertisements such as a coupon for Sunlight automatic dishwasher detergent. Within this advertisement, a comic book styled illustrations of a shocked woman holding up a glass dominates the page. She exclaims, “SPOTS! AND DAVE’S BOSS IS COMING OVER FOR DINNER! HOW WILL I COPE?”(TASTE 101). This advertisement clearly perpetuates the domestic role that women are supposed to fulfill at this time—it is an ad for dish soap directed towards the women who would utilize this particular product in their domestic environment. The tagline for this advertisement also implies that a major problem for this woman, and many others at this time, is how to properly wash and present spotless dishes for both her husband and her husband’s superiors. She is clearly fulfilling her proper domestic role, and it plagues her everyday thoughts, practices, and overall domestic lifestyle as a result. This shows that both the comic book style and the rooted thought of the subjugation of women was so widespread in this culture that it was even conveyed in this manner within an advertisement for dish soap.

My Reflection of My Research

Because of this research process, I have learned that despite the controversy surrounding Roy Lichtenstein’s work, his influence is evident in both artwork and pop culture to this day. The socially progressive stories and values he intricately weaves through his comic book print artwork are beautiful, intricate , and, above all, innovative.

Lichtenstein had to use stereotypical depictions of women in his artwork because although the 60s were a rapidly progressing and changing society, emphasis within the art world of this was stunted due to formal barriers in regards to political relevance. All about subliminal messages under the guise of keeping with the times and not making too much of a statement upon first glance

“Climatic struggles in scholarship and art that capped the decade as a time of conflict and close engagement with social and political affairs” (Age of Contradiction)

Comic books were a form of art that were readily available to the entirely of the general public, both male and female alike and people of all ages

This particular book discusses the overall culture of this era as well as the influence gender and consumer culture has on the artwork at this time. Unlike the other website sources I have read thus far, A Taste for Pop utilizes an abundance of pictures along with detailed text discussing numerous artists, their most acclaimed work, and their inspirations behind each piece. Above all, this is the first source I have found that discusses in great detail the work, inspiration, and influences of gender culture behind Roy Lichtenstein’s work. On February 12th, I begin to read the section in this book that focuses specifically on him and his career in art.

People taking offense to his works because he appropriates other works (Taste 116-)


  1. Brick, Howard. Age of Contradiction: American Thought and Culture of the 1960s. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998. Print.
  2. “Pop Art,” Museum of Modern Art,
  3. “Pop Art,” The Art Story,
  4. “Roy Lichtenstein,” Biography,
  5. Whiting, Cecile. A Taste for Pop. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.

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The Progression of Pop Art. (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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