the pop art debate

Pop art has always had a few champions among intellectuals, although the voices of pop art revisionism often have been drowned out in the din of elitist pooh-poohing. In 1965, however, essayist Susan Sontag wrote an influential piece, “On Culture and the New Sensibility,” that prompted many elitists to take a fresh look at pop art. In the 1970s, pop art fell out of favor and performance art and installations gained popularity.

It was not until the late 70s that paintings and painted objects gained ground. In subsequent decades, critics have revisited the issue of pop art’s merits, as artists like Jeff Koons ushered in the Neo-Pop age. Koons began a prodigious career in the 1970s and is still active today. He has created sculptures and other pop art works of celebrities like Michael Jackson and everyday items, like vacuums and balloons shaped into dogs.

Reactions by critics to Koons’ work are quite polarized. There are those who love his work and hail it as innovative, though highly controversial; others hate it and view it as cheap and even pornographic. Nevertheless, prestigious galleries and museums, such as the Whitney in New York, have exhibited this work. Regardless of whether critics pan him or love him, his work fetches astronomical sums of money. In 2015, Christies auctioned his 2009 Triple Elvis oil painting for $8,565,000.

Another internationally known Neo-Pop artist is Takashi Murakami, whose focus is on integrating anime imagery into his work. Murakami has partnered with fashion houses, such as Louis Vuitton, to create designer clothing lines. His work is an example of the gray line that blurs the high/low art distinction.

Writing Prompt Apply Your Media Literacy: Artistic Values

How has the digitalization of many classic and contemporary art had an impact on the literacy in this genre of mass audiences? Has it blurred the boundaries between “fine art” and “pop art,” and between the economic and class-based distinctions that, for generations, have tended to favor more sophisticated, highbrow tastes? If so, how?

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