From first glance, American society during the mid-1900s was one of a new found creativity and pop culture. After the struggles of the Great Depression and World War II in the 1930s and 1940s, people in the U.S. found a relief in the new up-and-coming creators, from authors to musicians to painters. “In 1960, nearly half of America’s population is under 18 years old. It’s a young society, and the most affluent generation in U.S. history.” Young Americans were drawn into this new world – of vivid colors and The Beatles – that is, pop culture. Visual artists were especially popular in this new age. “Pop Art was a celebration of this new materialistic culture. It made art from mass-produced objects, the media, and the world of glamour.” Along with these new creators after WWII, advertising and manufacturing started to arise in America as well.
Many of the art produced during this time in the U.S. reflected all the new possibilities and new social structure throughout the country that came along with that, Andy Warhol being one of the biggest artists to do this. Warhol got many mixed responses to his art, most of them being of confusion. This is because of how philosophical and serious which made it difficult for some people to understand. But many were able to appreciate this new abstract expressionism and how he was bringing the new American society into the spotlight and acknowledging the changes that were occurring. One of the main changes of society that Warhol – and other creators at the time – showed in their art was consumerism.
The 20th century was a major period for essentially everything. There was especially a considerable boom in manufacturing products, and therefore, consumerism followed closely behind. Around this time, mass production and interchangeable parts was in full swing. This new way of creating goods and products allowed even unskilled workers to make high quality goods in bulk consequently making them cheaper. This new change in the price of these products allowed the middle class to afford the same possessions as the wealthy. “All across the United States there was a huge assortment of goods and services to buy; and, as the president reminded Americans, the only limits they had were those they imposed on themselves.” Before this switch in price, the middle class, and below, only purchased what they felt was necessary to survive. But now that many commodities were available to the lower class as well, it changed their state of mind when purchasing from want to need.
Many marketing companies took advantage of this new drastic switch in the way people buy products. They were now able to advertise to the newly expanding middle class as well as the wealthy. Advertisers began to create propaganda for new non-essential items seem like something everyone must have. There began to be new innovative campaigns such as Pepsi Cola’s ‘Think Young’ and ‘Pepsi Generation’ from Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn reflected advertisers’ efforts to tone down their claims and establish a new relationship with their audiences. The line between what people need and what they want became blurred. In addition to posters, the media and arts also became commercialized with advertisements. Now that watching television was becoming America’s number one pass time, marketing companies began to place promotions before and sometimes during television programs, drawing even more people into the new world of consumerism. Since this new economy was taking America by storm, many artists and other creators brought the world of flashy posters and comedy-filled commercials into their world of music and more importantly, art. Andy Warhol was one of the primary artists to draw attention to this new way people consumed goods.
Andy Warhol was a very important figure during the 1960s being a pioneer in the world of pop art. Warhol was very interested in society and how it worked. He became very fascinated with the ideas of mass production and he rise in consumer culture. Coca Cola was a main focus of consumerism since the drink was one of the many products being mass produced. Since it was part of consumerism, Coca Cola was also intrigued Warhol. One of the artist’s works was simply titled ‘Coca-Cola’, which showed a black and white portrait of the famous bottle that was one of the first big icons of American pop culture. He was always very vocal about his views on American society and consumerism, saying this about Coca Cola:
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
One of Warhol’s most famous pieces using this art technique was the iconic Campbell’s Soup Cans. Along with Coca Cola, this famous was also being mass produced at the time as it was being demanded by the public. Andy Warhol saw this and decided to include Campbell in his line of works. “Warhol transformed the image into an icon by creating paintings and serigraphs featuring the cans as a focal subject.”
Andy Warhol really showed an intrigue in attempting to convey the manner of consumerism into his works. During the years that he was creating art that reflected consumerism, he founded his art studio and named it ‘The Factory’ to imitate how products and goods were being made. And just like these goods, Warhol made sure that his collection of pieces showing consumerism was made the same way; using a silk screen medium to create his art and having them mass produced by assistants.
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