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Present-Day Art And Ready-Made Styles
In which the formal contribution of Pop art is found to be negligible.

Darby Bannard

Present-day American painting and sculpture is very vital. It is split into many styles. Each style has its own qualities and some sort of audience. There is a "culture boom," which means that attention and money are being directed toward art. Art gets a lot of publicity. This is a stimulating atmosphere for artists. Consequently there are more artists making more art than ever before, and some of this work is very good. On the other hand, most of this huge production is inferior. Much of this inferior work is being done within the confines of several contemporary styles whose very nature limits and debilitates the talent and energy of artists working with them.

The enlarged framework of Abstract Expressionism was not the first assumptive basis for abstract painting, but it was the most fertile. Abstract Expressionism, as it flowered in this country from 1940 to 1960, was the first big burst of abstract painting involving a large number of fine artists working in a limited area with intensity and shared understanding. Their standard was Cubism, more specifically the flexible Cubism of which Guernica was an early example, handled with an expansive expressionist attitude. For a while it looked as if these artists were formulating new terms for painting. They didn't, but the easy promise was seductive. Moreover, like all original artists, they created style. Others sensed the quality and borrowed the style to get the quality. Instead of quality they got a sign pointing back to the original artist. This is the way fashion is born. The few pioneers, the exciting, somewhat derivative style, the growing economy and the increasing demand for art eventually caused an avalanche of Abstract Expressionism. By the late '50s just about everybody, it seemed, painted like de Kooning. In fact, the Abstract Expressionist "look" was a complex, prefabricated, emotive signal (of the sort I will describe presently) having broader currency than any in history.

In the late '50s and early '60s there were a number of artists who felt that Abstract Expressionism was a dead end. They saw the style weaken as it passed from the hands of the originators, and they were oppressed by the flood of second rate Abstract Expressionism surrounding them. So from their own paintings they chased away as many of the mannerisms of Abstract Expressionism as they could understand. Abstract Expressionism was repudiated point by point: painting within the drawing replaced drawing with paint; overt regularity replaced apparent randomness; symmetry replaced asymmetric balancing; flat, depersonalized brushing or open, stained color replaced the smudge, smear and spatter; affective color replaced color-as-plane. The entire visible esthetic of Abstract Expressionism was brutally revised. There were the "hard-edge" artists; many of them are the Op, Minimal and Color artists of today.

Another reaction to Abstract Expressionism was, in the beginning, an accommodation, or an adaption, rather than an open revolt: Pop art. This style based itself on the styles of Larry Rivers, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenburg, none of whom rejected the whole vocabulary of Abstract Expressionism the way the various hard-edge painters did. Instead, they injected illustration into the Abstract Expressionist context. As Pop art developed, and was taken up by others, a "pure" Pop evolved, which is all illustration, wherein the rendering of the work coincides with the artist's attitude toward the subject matter, and in the work of these artists there is little vestige of Abstract Expressionism.

The Pop artists took advantage of the "energized" art environment yielded them by Abstract Expressionism. Their works looked lively and the hard-edge works looked dull. The Abstract Expressionist style was an exciting one, for all its faults. It had an appealing atmosphere of muscular action and direct participation; it connoted rebellion and masculinity at the same time; it was calligraphic, yet imposing; dynamic, yet intimate. Abstract Expressionism created an audience, and then sated that audience. The new art public became bored with Abstract Expressionism, but they were not ready to give it up. They were eager for art. With its Abstract Expressionist backbone and shiny Pop face, Pop art spilled in to fill the vacuum. As the sophistication of the art-viewing public broadened, Pop was followed by Op, and now, Minimal Art. In the meantime, others struggle with the artistic problems left them by Abstract Expressionism, and enjoy whatever attention is left over.

Pragmatically, the strongest art styles of any given period are those which receive the most critical attention. Today the strongest styles are Pop, Op, Minimal and Color. As categories, these styles weaken progressively; in other words, Pop is more definite as a style than Op, or Color, and tends to dominate the other factors the artist may introduce into a work.

Pop art has subject matter which is recognizable, but untraditional, usually taken from popular, vulgar, or "non-artistic" culture, often that of 20 or 30 years ago, when the artists were children. Once determined, the subject matter is rendered in order to enhance its own qualities, or according to various contemporary styles. The fact of, or recognition of, and ironic reflection upon this subject matter is the major part of the content of a Pop work.
 
The works of the following artist fill out a description of the Pop style:
1. Robert Rauschenberg works both flat and in the round. His flat works are usually expanded collages-photos, reproductions, transfers, various flotsam of contemporary life-rendered with a modified heavily Cubist Abstract Expressionist technique. Occasionally objects will protrude from the picture plane. His sculptural work tends to be juxtaposed subject matter, like his famous goat with a tire around its middle.
2. Roy Lichtenstein's subject matter is comic strips. Except for adjustments he makes for artistic reasons, and change of scale, the subject determines the rendering. His recent works are "landscapes" and Abstract Expressionist type "brushstrokes," done in the comic strip style. They are simpler and better than the earlier cartoons. He may someday be painting abstract paintings with these means, which should be interesting.
3. James Rosenquist has a simpler technique. He juxtaposes painted enlargements of common objects. The arrangement is usually Cubist, but sometimes two or three elements will be put together in so simple a fashion that the compositional means are unimportant, and the weight falls on the subject matter.
4. Robert Indiana has made emblematic paintings using punchy verbal signs: "eat," "die," and so on. The composition tends to be symmetrical and sign-like, following the character of the subject matter.
5. Claes Oldenburg is more "pure" Pop. His objects are enlargements or material changes of his subject matter: giant shirts and hamburgers or soft telephones and typewriters. His things are witty and sensual, and often quite sexual, like the giant breast-like light switch and the phallic Dormeyer Mixers.
6. George Segal makes plaster casts of real people and puts them in "real" situations. The bus driver at the Museum of Modern Art is a good example. The "freezing" of a real situation is the idea here. There is no attempt at esthetic treatment. The surroundings are settings with real objects, and the plaster casts are awkward and apparently un-retouched. The scenes gain what character they
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