Roy Lichtenstein and the Dichotomy of Commercial Art and High Art.

Katherine20th Century Art, American Paintings, Artist SpotlightLeave a Comment

During the 1950s and 1960s, Abstract Expressionism sought new ways to explore the emotional and the spiritual through splatters of paint and non-figurative shapes. It began as a question of what can define art.  Pop Art arose as a new voice to this debate. Instead of artists bearing their souls in extreme abstraction, Pop artists sought to recreate the mundane. Advertisements, commercialism, and other images that fade into the background of everyday life were all brought to the forefront.  Roy Lichtenstein was among the figureheads of this movement. Lichtenstein’s most iconic works focused on imagery of new form of media – comic books.

roylichtensteinRoy Lichtenstein recreated comic book imagery by changing the focus of the scene and exaggerating the artificial features of the picture. Replicating reality did not interest him. Instead, he was fascinated by the abstract and artificial nature of the comic. He referred to this type of art as “crude” and found this crudeness artful in itself. Lichtenstein focused on the trademarks of the medium such as heavy line work and ben-day dots. Ben-day dots were used as a quick and inexpensive way to create shading and color in comic books. Pulp comic artists would purchase sheets and overlay them to create the intended affects. Ironically, Lichtenstein was much more methodical and thoughtful. The comic artists used them as short-cuts, Lichtenstein used them to challenge the definition of art.

Technique was one of the most important aspects in Lichtenstein’s works. While many comics were cheaply made with machinery, Lichtenstein painted his works. Like many traditional illustrators, he would start by projecting pencil sketches onto the canvas. He then would section off shapes with black tape and collages of color. As he painted, he used varnishes in a way to mimic a printing press. Roy Lichtenstein also created mechanisms and tools to further enhance the final look. Aspects such as the enlarged ben-day dots were created by a dog brush and then later with a metal screen of his own design.

Lichtenstein was interested in the dichotomy of commercial art and high art. He found that there is value in media that’s usually ignored. By exploring commercialized art, Roy Lichtenstein helped viewers see true art in unusual sources.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art.

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