Creator Economy, Crypto, Web 3


Today’s trends are a recycle of past movements with modifications that remedy the loopholes of the past. The current NFT hysteria in the art sphere is somewhat synonymous to an art movement which emanated in the 60s, Pop Art. The NFT movement on art is interesting as it solves a major problem which made the public referred to pop art as a joke. Like NFTs, pop art was a recipient of decry when it debuted the spotlight. In retrospect, the proponents of pop art laid the foundation for artists and collectors in the NFT art space today.


How did pop art achieve this?

* Restoring imagery to art
* Reshaping subject matter
* Introducing recreation
* Industrialization of art


Restoring imagery to art

Pop art has no hidden meanings to decipher. Pop art eliminated ambiguity by simply presenting itself honestly and openly. This made pop art fun, unadulterated fun. The injection of bold colors and classic subjects amplified the fun pop art propagated. While I still marvel at abstract paintings like Pollock’s No.5, 1948, pop art introduction of imagery made art easily relatable. If Pollock’s paintings are a representation of when the mind goes blank and shuts out noises from the environment, Warhol’s are when the mind romanticizes the environment.


“No. 5, 1948”, an abstract expressionism painting by Jackson Pollock. Sold for $140 million in 2006. The abstract expressionism movement preceded pop art.


Pop artists believed everything is inter-connected and therefore sought to make those connections literal in their artwork. Andy Warhol was famous for his vividly colored portraits of celebrities, political figures, consumer goods and a wide variety of relatable imagery.


Reshaping subject matter

Abstract artists were sick and tired of art revolving around a “high power” which made them search within and create introspective art. This birthed the abstract expressionism art movement. Pop art took the easier and radical route: creation from introspection requires hard encounters with the subconscious, we’re not going back to myths, so the noises from the present will be our inspiration. This accounts for the reason pop art revolves around showbiz culture, the loudest noise, even today. The subject matter became far from traditional “high art” themes of mythology and classic history. Instead pop artists celebrated familiar objects and people of everyday life. Jasper Johns troubled conventions with paintings that included references to things the mind already knows- flags, letters, numbers.


“Three Flags”, a 1958 pop art painting by Jasper Johns. Acquired by Whitney Museum of American Art in 1980 for $1 million


Pop art became the approachable art, taking clues from popular culture, mass-media and using things the general public deal with daily as subjects. It reflected what we like best about the world around us- food, entertainment, products and consumption. Through this, pop art established that art may borrow from any source.

“Coca-Cola 3”, a pop art by Andy Warhol. Sold for $ 57.3 million at Christie’s in 2013. Courtesy: Christie’s


Introducing Recreation

Pop art challenged the perspective that art must be unique. Art connoisseurs have always pushed the narrative that an art can only be considered valuable, if it has no resemblance to already existing works. Where these individuals get it all wrong is that no art is actually unique. Every artwork, is an intersection of diverse elements and already existing artwork can be a part of these. For this reason, we shouldn’t request art to be unique, but original. Originality stems from how an artist synthesizes these already existing elements with his imaginations and perceptions.

This misconception from art connoisseurs was defied by Roy Lichtenstein. He derived his subject from comic books and appropriated techniques used to create the images in comic books to hand paint his artworks. Lichtenstein works weren’t a copycat of the comic books, but creative reimagination of the composition of these comic designs. By hand-painting the usually machine-generated dots and recreating comic book scenes, Lichtenstein brought originality to recreative art.


“Masterpiece”, a pop art painting by Roy Lichtenstein. It sold for $165 million in 2017. His works centered on recreation and appropriation of comic book designs. Image source: Getty Images


Industrialization of art

This is the most profound disruption created by the pop art movement. In fact one could say this was what made pop art a precursor of digital art NFTs. Pop artists embraced the post-World War II manufacturing and media boom. It fulfilled its message that we live in a world of industrialized, mass-produced products. Pop art propagated reproducibility of art at scale instead of 1-of-1 kind of oil painting and this movement challenged traditions of fine art.

Andy Warhol was a pop artist who was at the forefront of this unconventional trend. He transitioned from hand painting to screen-printing in order to further facilitate the large scale replication of pop images. Warhol’s insistence on mechanized reproduction of art rejected notions of artistic authenticity and genius.


“Triple Elvis”, a 1963 painting by Andy Warhol. Sold for $81.9 million at Christie’s in 2014. Courtesy: Christie’s


Andy Warhol argued that if consumer goods like Coca-Cola are considered valuable despite being produced at scale, artworks shouldn’t be different. The value of art shouldn’t be tied to the medium used for its production, be it paint on canvas, silkscreen or digital. The creative genius poured into the creation of the art should be the determinant of a work’s value. Andy Warhol received backlash for industrializing art, though that didn’t stop him from recreating his works at scale.


Another artwork from the “Triple Elvis” series. Recreated by Andy Warhol. Sold at Christie’s for $1.8 million in 1998. Courtesy: Christie’s


This viewpoint of art was later exploited by the printing industry which made billions off mass produced works of pop artists without these artists getting accrued royalties. Provenance of art became non-existent. Production of art at scale or through alternative mediums shouldn’t confer artists not getting rewarded or their works devalued. This is a challenge the Non-Fungible Token (NFT) innovation can solve for artists. It acts as a digital contract which certifies ownership and provenance for an artwork. This invariably ascribes certifiable ownership, scarcity and value to artworks. NFTs are created by writing smart contracts which are encoded on the blockchain network. Royalties can be encoded in a smart contract and an artist automatically receives the written percentage on resale of his artwork. This spells good news for artists as they don’t get royalties off resale of their artworks.


Final Thoughts

It’s important to state that this innovation isn’t restricted to art as it’s being adopted by musicians, online communities, video gamers and other fields. However, the impact NFTs have had in the art space has created a shockwave that can be considered a reincarnation of the pop art movement. This time, much better with portable provenance and economic value still being captured.

I bet Andy Warhol would’ve minted an NFT.

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