The artists of the 1960s are generally associated with "Pop Art." Pop Art originated in London in the 1950s and by the 1960s it was the dominant artistic genre in the United States. Pop Art emerged as a reaction to Abstract Expressionism, which had been the dominant artistic model in the 1940s and 1950s. In addition to rejecting most of the premises of Abstract Expressionism, the artists associated with Pop Art were interested in challenging traditional concepts. In particular they rejected the idea of "fine art." Pop Art was motivated by the desire to make art more accessible to the masses, and in fact, one of the characteristics of Pop Art was its embracing of mass consumer culture.
Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) laid much of the groundwork for the Pop Art movement in his earlier work in the 1950s. He experimented with "found objects" and collage techniques and challenged the traditional ideas about artistic materials and themes. Everyday objects and images, which "the man on the street" easily relates to, can be used to create art. Art can be made from any sort of object. An everyday object becomes an "art object" because of the intent of the artist. The artist removes, or alienates, the object from its normal context. The artist's treatment of the object makes us approach it in a different way. Rauschenberg gives preeminence to the "idea" of the artists over the content.
Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol
Lichtenstein (1923-1997) and Warhol (1929-1987) are probably the two artists from the 1960s whose work is most recognizable by the general public. Lichtenstein and Warhol were both influenced by Rauschenberg's earlier work and ideas and expanded the idea of Pop Art in their own unique ways. Lichtenstein's comic book images and Warhol's soup cans and celebrities have become a part of popular culture and are often themselves parodied. Warhol and Lichtenstein were interested in blending the lines that separate fine art, on the one hand, from consumerism and popular culture on the other hand. They both used images that are easily and immediately recognizable. Lichtenstein employed comic book characters, gum wrapper comics and images from magazines and television. Warhol used commercial objects, such as soup cans and soap boxes, and the images of famous celebrities such as Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. Warhol and Lichtenstein's works are both characterized by loud and vibrant colors which are themselves a reflection on the modern advertising and consumer culture.
Jasper Johns (born 1930) became involved in the vibrant New York City art world of the 1950s. He was heavily influenced by Rauschenberg as well as by the avant-garde composer John Cage. His most well known painting is the "American Flag" which he produced in 1954-55. Johns adopted popular iconography and images such as flags, maps and numbers in his work. His intent is to create new meanings through arranging conventional symbols in new contexts.
Rothko (1903-1970) had a three-decade career as a professional artist. His career began in the 1930s. The 1960s represents the last stage of his career. Rothko presents a direct challenge to pop artists whom he dismissed as charlatans. Rothko sought deeper meanings in art. His artistic ideas were informed by studies of Freud, Jung and Nietzsche and studies in mythology and symbolism. His work in the 1960s focused on large canvases with rectangular shapes. The goal of the works was to motivate spiritual contemplation and meditation in the viewer.