According to one anecdote, Lichtenstein’s son, Mitchell, was not impressed with his father’s work. “[Lichtenstein] says that he painted [Look Mickey] for his son’s friends,” Graham Bader, a professor of art history at Rice University, explained. “In school they’d been mocking him, that his father wasn’t any good because he only painted abstract,” he said. Lichtenstein decided to make something that would prove to Mitchell and his friends that he really could paint, not just make incomprehensible scribbles.
Lichtenstein took a source image from a 1960 children’s book entitled Donald Duck Lost and Found, refined the palette to only primary colors and white, and simplified the composition (the original features a more crowded scene, with figures running in the background). He adopted a line from the book for the speech bubble and made the characters brighter and blockier. The final painting also features greater detail in the waves beneath the dock.
Lichtenstein first showed Look Mickey
in 1960, while both were working as art instructors at Rutgers University in New Jersey. They were discussing pedagogy, particularly how to teach students about composition. Kaprow mentioned how he felt ’s
work was too complex—alternately, bubble gum comics were a better tool. Upon hearing this, Lichtenstein showed Kaprow his own comic-inspired piece.