Popular Culture


Manifest in everything from film to food labels, popular culture includes the cultural activities, products, images, and ideas embraced by the broader public, particularly as seen in mass media. By borrowing the iconography and lore of pop culture as the material for their artwork, artists are able to reflect the world we live in and comment on larger forces like globalization, technology, and consumerism. They also blur the distinction between high and low culture through their inclusion of common subject matter in “fine” art. In Western art history, since the mid-19th century artists have often referred to aspects of popular culture. Gustave Courbet, for example, alluded to a popular image of the Wandering Jew in his 1854 Meeting. Pablo Picasso is generally regarded as the first artist to include an actual piece of popular culture—wallpaper printed with a chair-caning pattern—in an artwork, his Still Life with Chair-Caning of 1912. Pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are probably the best known for their inclusion of popular imagery, such as supermarket foods and comic book heroines, into their works.