Historical and Cultural Context

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E-Mail Doug at mrdoug@aznet.net or Melissa at mjmckinstry@earthlink.net

Events that shaped the arts from 1945 to 1960's.

Pop Art - Artists

Pop Art (1950's-1960's)

Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. - Andy Warhol - http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/a125359.html

Andy Warhol - Elvis I and II - 1964 - http://info.ago.net/collection/artist.cfm?artist_id=4&collection_id=2


It is a moot point as to whether the most extraordinary innovation of 20th-century art was Cubism or Pop Art. Both arose from a rebellion against an accepted style: the Cubists thought Post-Impressionist artists were too tame and limited, while Pop Artists thought the Abstract Expressionists pretentious and over-intense. Pop Art brought art back to the material realities of everyday life, to popular culture (hence "pop''), in which ordinary people derived most of their visual pleasure from television, magazines, or comics.

Pop Art emerged in the mid 1950s in England, but realized its fullest potential in New York in the '60s where it shared, with Minimalism, the attentions of the art world. In Pop Art, the epic was replaced with the everyday and the mass-produced awarded the same significance as the unique; the gulf between "high art'' and "low art'' was eroding away. The media and advertising were favorite subjects for Pop Art's often witty celebrations of consumer society. Perhaps the greatest Pop artist, whose innovations have affected so much subsequent art, was the American artist, Andy Warhol (1928-87).

The term "Pop Art'' was first used by the English critic Lawrence Alloway in a 1958 issue of Architectural Digest to describe those paintings that celebrate post-war consumerism, defy the psychology of Abstract Expressionism, and worship the god of materialism. The most famous of the Pop artists, the cult figure Andy Warhol, recreated quasi-photographic paintings of people or everyday objects (http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/tl/20th/pop-art.html).

Events that shaped the arts from 1945 to 1960's. | Top

1945 - Winston Churchill, the British prime minister; Franklin D. Roosevelt, the American president; and Joseph Stalin, Soviet premier met to discuss the resolution of WWII and as Churchill called it, "the broad sunlight of victorious peace." The direct outcomes were that Germany would be temporarily divided; the Soviet Union would join in the fight against Japan; and also participate in an international conference in San Francisco, the precursor to the United Nations (WH, p. 737).

1945 - Cold War begins between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

1945 - 50 countries signed the United Nations charter in June. Together these nations pledged "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." (WH, p. 739).

1945 - July 26, President Truman issued a declaration warning the Japanese that they faced "prompt and utter destruction" unless the surrendered at once. The Japanese government did not reply.

Hiroshima after the bomb -

On August 6, an American B-29, the Anola Gay, dropped the first of two atomic bombs. The first on Hiroshima, where 80,000 people perished in the searing heat, and the second three days later, August 9, on the city of Nagasaki, where 40,000 people were killed.

Japan's Emperor Hirohito formally surrendered on September 2, 1945 (WH, p. 722).


1947 - November 29, a special UN committee recommended the creation of not one but two Palestines, one Jewish and the other Arab. Jerusalem would be maintained as an international city under permanent UN trusteeship. May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, longtime leader of the Jews residing in Palestine, announced the creation of an independent Israel (WH, p. 796).

Elected to the House of Representative, Richard Nixon was invited to join the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he became involved in its campaign against subversion. In 1947 the HUAC began its investigation into the entertainment industry and was responsible for the blacklisting of 320 artists (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAnixon.htm).

1948 - The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that supports human rights through the protection of individuals against oppression and the preservation of basic right and freedoms (WH, p. 739).



1949 - Soviets tested their first atom bomb in a remote part of Siberia. That test marked the end of the American monopoly on such bombs (WH, p. 740).

1950 - North Korea invades South Korea, sparking the Korean War. President Truman sends U.S. military troops as part of a United Nations effort. The war is one of the first in which Cold War adversaries, the U.S. and the USSR, support opposing sides in a third-party conflict after World War II.

Former state department bureaucrat and alleged Communist spy Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury. Senator Joseph McCarthy begins his one-man anti-Communist witch hunt (http://www.historychannel.com/).

1950 - I'm born in Coronado, California and start my trek through life.

Lew, Bob, moi, Dick, Cele - the perfect family - 1951


1951 - J.D. Salinger publishes The Catcher in the Rye.

General Douglas MacArthur is relieved of his command in Korea after he advocates more aggressive expansion of the U.S. military effort there (http://www.historychannel.com/).

1952 - African-American novelist Ralph Ellison publishes epic novel *Invisible Man. In a poll by Book Week, it was judged "the most distinguished single work" published in America between 1945 and 1965. Its complex time structure, spacious setting, nameless ethnic protagonist, allegorical and legendary characters, rites of passage, ironic theme, and ritualistic use of music and language suggest that Ellison drew on African-American folklore and the Western epic tradition to render his vision of the historical odyssey of blacks in America to define themselves (http://www.historychannel.com/).

*Not to be confused with HG Wells, The Invisible Man, written in 1897.

1952 - Ernest Hemingway, a heavyweight in American literature, publishes The Old Man in the Sea.

The first birth control pill is introduced, although it will not be available to the public for another 8 years. The first oral contraceptive will make management of contraception easier for millions (http://www.historychannel.com/).

Richard Milhous Nixon - 1952 - http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAnixon.htm

Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower is elected president. Richard Nixon serves as his vice-president.

Nearly three decades before the famous scare at Three Mile Island, the world's first nuclear power plant accident occurs at Chalk River, in Canada (http://www.historychannel.com/).


1950 Philco - Model T1403 - 12 inch screen -

1953 - 20 million households have television sets, up from under 1 million in 1949. Commercial advertising is widespread (http://www.historychannel.com/). 50% of Americans now have a television set (25,233,000 homes) (http://www.tvhistory.tv/1953%20QF.htm).

Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot opens in Paris. Arthur Miller's The Crucible, an allegory of the Communist witch hunt, also premieres (http://www.historychannel.com/).

1954 - In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas the Supreme Court rules unanimously that racial segregation violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Senator Joseph McCarthy accelerates his anti-Communist witch hunt with the nationally televised Army-McCarthy Hearings and is formally censured by Congress.

Elvis Presley records "That's All Right Mama'' and several other singles.

William Golding, who will proceed to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, publishes his tale of the dark side of human nature, The Lord of the Flies (http://www.historychannel.com/).


Chuck Berry - http://departments.colgate.edu/diw/pegg/chuck.html

1955 - Rock music fans get some of their first anthems. Popular songs include Bill Haley `s "Rock Around the Clock'' and Chuck Berry's "Maybelline.''

Ray Kroc buys out a hamburger franchise from the McDonald brothers and launches an empire of golden arches. Harland Sanders also begins his Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

The polio vaccine, developed by microbiologist Jonas Salk, is declared safe for use. Just three years prior, polio had stricken over 50,000 Americans.

Appearing in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean is killed in an automobile accident.

Disneyland, part of the empire that Walt Disney built, opens in California, the first theme park in America's history of leisure (http://www.historychannel.com/).


Rosa Parks - Corbis/Bettmann - 1955 -

1956 - In late 1955, Rosa Parks had refused to move to the back of the bus. This year in Montgomery, Alabama, a bus boycott organized by Martin Luther King brings the young preacher into the national eye.

Grace Kelly and Andy Warhol's interpretation -

Prince Rainier of Monaco marries the film actress Grace Kelly.

Fidel Castro lands on the Eastern coast of Cuba, launching a revolution against the Batista regime.

Elvis Presley tops the charts this year with "Love Me Tender,'' "Hound Dog,'' and "Heartbreak Hotel.''

Allen Ginsberg publishes Howl, which will become a classic of the beat generation in American poetry and literature (http://www.historychannel.com/).

1957 - The Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), an anti-nuclear protest organization, is created and demands nuclear disarmament.

Kerouac with David Amram, Allen Ginsberg and others -

I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life but that great consciousness of life. - Jack Kerouac

Written six years prior, Jack Kerouac's On the Road is published, catapulting him into beat generation stardom.

Inaugurating a new era in exploration, the U.S.S.R. launches Sputnik I and II, the first earth satellites. Space exploration becomes another arena of Cold War competition.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, the civil rights movement shifts into high gear when white crowds protest efforts to desegregate public schools. President Eisenhower sends in the National Guard.


You know who - Dr. Seuss - 1957

Dr. Seuss publishes the captivating The Cat in the Hat, a classic in children's literature (http://www.historychannel.com/).


1958 - The play A Raisin in the Sun, by 29-year-old Lorraine Hansberry, is at tale of the modern African-American family.

Alarmed by recent advances by the Soviet space program, the United States establishes NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to coordinate its own efforts to reach space. America's first satellite is released this year.

The first atomic submarine, the Nautilus, built in 1954, travels under the North Pole.

Credit cards get a boost; charge card American Express debuts, and the forerunner of Visa, the BankAmericard, also appears.

John Kenneth Galbraith pens The Affluent Society to criticize private consumption in American society and advocate greater spending on public resources (http://www.historychannel.com/).

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum - 1959 -

1959 - The Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, opens in New York City. Wright dies this year at age 89.

In January, Alaska becomes the 49th U.S. state, followed by Hawaii, the 50th, in August.

Jazz's "Lady Day,'' Billie Holiday, dies. Rock musician Buddy Holly also dies in a plane crash.


Barbie Doll fridge magnet - 1959 - http://www.fridgedoor.com/fridgedoor/orbar19.html

The doll industry gets a new major player when Barbie debuts. Barbie is created by the Handlers, a husband and wife team who found Mattel, Inc (http://www.historychannel.com/).

1960 - In South Africa, police kill 56 civilians protesting apartheid and the Pass Laws in the Sharpeville Massacre. The government bans two major anti-apartheid groups, the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress.

John F Kennedy Presidential Campaign Memorabilia
from the Duke University Special Collections Library - 1960 -

Democrat John F. Kennedy defeats Republican Vice-President Richard Nixon to win the presidential election, He becomes both the youngest and the first Roman Catholic president.

In the Hughes Laboratory in California, physicist Theodore Maiman perfects the laser, now widely used in surgery, holography, communications, and printing.

Communist China, led by Mao Zedong, criticizes the Soviet Union, causing a split in Sino-Soviet relations; Mao's "Great Leap Forward,'' intended to increase food production, fails (http://www.historychannel.com/).


1961 - The Berlin Wall is built after Warsaw Pact members request that East Germany stop the tide of refugees escaping from East to West Berlin.

President John F. Kennedy forms the Peace Corps of Young Americans, in which volunteers work to improve living standards in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Bob Dylan - Columbia Records - recorded 1961, released 1962 -

Bob Dylan, originally named Robert Zimmerman, is discovered singing in Greenwich Village by Columbia Records and produces his first album. His songs become symbolic of the civil rights movement and the hippie culture.

The Freedom Rides in Alabama attempt to overturn southern segregation in the growing civil rights movement (http://www.historychannel.com/).

1962 - American surveillance discovers Soviet missiles installed in Cuba, a stone's throw away from the Florida coast. In the brief, tense standoff known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the possibility of a nuclear war raises its head.

The U.S. space program is on the rise; Marine Corps pilot John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth.

Racial tensions in the U.S. escalate, and President John F. Kennedy sends federal troops to enforce integration at the University of Mississippi after rioting occurs.


Source for this image: Marilyn Monroe and the Camera
Photographer: Frank Rizzo for Paris Match - Spring 1962 -

Marilyn Monroe dies and is eulogized as "a legend in her own time.''

Pop Art is at a high, with Andy Warhol's famous painting of a Campbell's soup can and Roy Lichtenstein's Blam! And Head.

Sam Walton opens the first Wal-Mart (http://www.historychannel.com/).

John F. Kennedy Jr.'s final salute to his father - 1963 -

1963 - John F. Kennedy is assassinated on November 22nd in Dallas, Texas, and Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson takes office. The Warren Commission investigates the assassination. Jack Ruby, a nightclub operator, shoots and kills Kennedy's alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers his famous, ``I have a dream'' speech at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. More than 200,000 Americans march to demonstrate civil rights support.


Beatles promotion picture - 1963 -

The Beatles get their first U.S. rock `n' roll hit with ''I Wanna Hold Your Hand.''

Congress votes to guarantee women equal pay for equal work, and feminist Betty Friedan publishes The Feminine Mystique, which argues that women suffer from discrimination and the illusion of self-fulfillment through their husbands.

New Hampshire runs the first state lottery in the United States (http://www.historychannel.com/).

1964 - President Johnson is re-elected president of the United States in a landslide victory against Barry Goldwater, and begins his `` War on Poverty'' with the Economic Opportunity Act.

After being filibustered for 75 days by Southern senators, the Civil Rights Bill is passed on July 2nd and calls for an end to discrimination.

In South Africa, African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela is sentenced to life imprisonment; his incarceration becomes a major point of contention for anti-apartheid supporters.

The Surgeon General releases a report that links smoking to lung cancer; despite warnings, cigarette smoking increases (http://www.historychannel.com/).

Feb. 25 - Cassius Clay wins the world heavyweight championship by defeating Sonny Liston in seven rounds at Miami Beach, Fla.

1965 - At the University of Michigan, a ``teach-in'' is held to protest the Vietnam War and heralds the beginning of the student anti-war movement.

Civil Rights demonstrations increase despite arrests, and Martin Luther King, Jr., leads a march in Selma, Alabama, as well as a march on Chicago's City Hall.

Ralph Nader publishes Unsafe At Any Speed, decrying the dangers of automobiles and urging consumer protection (http://www.historychannel.com/).

1966 - The National Organization for Women (NOW), led by feminist Betty Friedan, is formed in an effort to help American woman gain equal rights.

Mao Zedong begins the Cultural Revolution in China to purge disaffected party leaders and kindle the revolutionary spirit of the Communist party.

The Department of the Interior publishes its first rare and endangered species list, enumerating 78 species, part of the century's conservation and environmental movement.

Bones, Kirk, and Spock - http://www.stinsv.com/TOS/kirkv.htm

Star Trek begins airing on NBC, starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and becomes a cult classic in American science fiction (http://www.historychannel.com/).

1967 - Anti-war sentiment increases in the United States: Martin Luther King, Jr., encourages draft evasion, more than 100,000 people demonstrate in New York, and 647 people are arrested out of about 150,000 who protest outside the Pentagon. Despite public outcry, more troops are deployed.

Thurgood Marshall becomes the first black Supreme Court justice.

The Six-Day Arab-Israeli War ends on June 11th, with Israel capturing Arab Jerusalem and Golan Heights and guaranteeing freedom of access for people of all faiths to all holy places. Despite requests from the United Nations, Israel refuses to change its position.

The first Rolling Stone magazine is published in San Francisco by 21-year-old Jann Wenner. The magazine has an initial circulation of 6,000, which booms as it becomes a voice for the counter-culture movement (http://www.historychannel.com/).

1968 - An overwhelming North Vietnamese attack on South Vietnamese cities called the Tet Offensive is a turning point in the war. In the South Vietnam village of My Lai, American soldiers kill over 300 men, women, and children. Thus far, the United States has lost over 10,000 planes over Vietnam.

Democratic Senator Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles by Jordanian-American Sirhan Bishara Sirhan after making a bid for the presidency.

Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, by James Earl Ray, an ex-convict from the Mississippi Penitentiary.

Beatles Yellow Submarine Painted Sculpture-"Blue Meanie" - http://www.judiebomberger.com/yellowsubmarine/Y1.htm

The Beatles try to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies in the movie Yellow Submarine. Other Hollywood releases include Zefirelli's Romeo and Juliet, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Night of the Living Dead (http://www.historychannel.com/).

I graduated from Coronado High School.

Buzz Aldrin poses for a photo beside the United States flag. The lunar module is seen on the left. Numerous footprints are now clearly visible in the fine grained, powder-like soil. - http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/apollo11/

1969 - Through NASA, the U.S. space program flies higher than anyone before. Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to walk on the moon when he exits the lunar capsule Apollo 11 with the famous words "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.''

The gay rights movement begins in New York with the Stonewall Inn Riot, in protest of a police raid of a dance club and bar in Greenwich Village.

The Woodstock music festival reigns for four days in the Catskill Mountains. Recreational drugs are quite widespread.

Big Bird - http://www.strongmuseum.org/texhibits/sstt/sstt.html

Sesame Street, created by the Children's Television Workshop, debuts on public television and begins to change attitudes about children's learning capabilities (http://www.historychannel.com/).

Pop Art - Artists | Top

  • Peter Blake

The value of impermanence is to call attention to the permanent. - Stuart Davis - http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/s/q111677.html

  • Stuart Davis
  • Jim Dine
  • Richard Hamilton
  • David Hockney

Robert Indiana's most famous sculpture displayed at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. - http://www.school-alumni.rootsweb.com/~in-aths-indianapolis/Robertindiana.htm

Some people like to paint trees. I like to paint love. I find it more meaningful than painting trees. - Robert Indiana


  • Robert Indiana
  • Jasper Johns
  • Allen Jones
  • R.B. Kitaj
  • Roy Lichtenstein
  • Claes Oldenburg
  • Robert Rauschenberg

James Rosenquist - World's Fair Mural - 1964 -

  • James Rosenquist
  • George Segal


Wayne Theibaud - Lemon Meringue Pie - 1964 -

  • Wayne Thiebaud

Andy Warhol - Mao -1972 -

  • Andy Warhol
  • Tom Wesselmann

Historical and Cultural Context | Site Map | On-Line Resources | Rules of Thumb | Glossary | Quotes | WordList | Co-Teachers - Doug and Melissa | Gallery | Top

E-Mail Doug at mrdoug@aznet.net or Melissa at melissa.granadatreehousestudio@gmail.com

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