Teaching Guide: Exploring Pop Art in the US

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Pop Art in the US, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Compare the work of Jasper Johns (as seen in the press release and photograph of Castelli), Andy Warhol (as seen in the photograph of Green Coca-Cola Bottles and Marilyn Monroe I Love Your Kiss Forever Forever), Tom Wesselmann (as seen in Still Life (#12)), and Allan D’Arcangelo (as seen in June Moon). Aside from the popular subject matter, what other similarities do you notice? How do these characteristics seem to reflect the changing American culture that inspired pop artists?
  2. Using the interview with Ed Ruscha, explain some of the reasons you think pop art became accepted in the art world. How do Ruscha’s comments affect your understanding of how artists work?
  3. Pop art is sometimes described as “ironic” because it often reveals something contrary to the viewer’s expectations. How do you think Allan d’Arcangelo’s June Moon employs irony? Discuss how other sources in this set are similarly ironic.
  4. Describe how advertising today compares to the promotion for Coca-Cola, the magazine cover advertising a new Cadillac, and the postcard of Ray’s. How do the differences and similarities reflect changes in society?
  5. Inventory the materials and artistic techniques you see in Roy Lichtenstein’s prints, Andy Warhol’s Green Coca-Cola Bottles and Marilyn Monroe I Love Your Kiss Forever Forever, and Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life (#12). How does each artist’s choice of technique reinforce ideas associated with pop art? How might their artistic processes have contributed to the critical response pop received from Max Kozloff and others in the art world?
  6. Use the Ed Ruscha poster, as well as your independent research about the exhibition New Painting of Common Objects, describe some of the distinctions between pop artists in Los Angeles and those in New York. How might these reflect regional differences in the United States?

Classroom activities

  1. Ask students to debate whether or not pop art offered a critique of popular culture, the influence of mass media, and advertising images. How ironic was pop art? How critical? Students should support their reasoning with description and analysis of examples in the set.
  2. Ask students to look closely at Tom Wesselmann’s 1962 collage Still Life (#12), considering its possible meaning, the artist’s process, and how the collaged pictures and logos contribute to the work’s impact. Working in small groups, students should choose advertising images online or in magazines to create their own collage addressing a current topic or concern in today’s world.

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