Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Craig Eliason

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Kindall

Third Advisor

Jayme Yahr


Leading critic and curator of Pop art Lawrence Alloway thought differently about the significance of Pop art imagery during the movement’s rise. He desired to establish Pop art's legitimization as an artistic movement and broaden the limiting characteristics of its subject matter as expendable icons to enduring icons. Alloway's individualistic theory of enduring icons evident in Pop art contradicted a majority of his colleagues who both supported and opposed Pop art as a viable artistic movement. Marshall McLuhan, a leading communication scholar, proposed theories of mass media that became the basic understanding of the media images used in Pop Art, thus defining the style as salient but ephemeral. Alloway’s earlier beliefs about Pop Art aligned with these ideas; however, his beliefs changed. Alloway evolved from the common belief that Pop imagery was expendable to theorize that appropriated icons of Pop art could endure. His theory of enduring icons ensured Pop art's position as a legitimate artistic movement. Alloway championed Pop art because he believed the signs present in Pop art could be interpreted using iconography based upon the method as defined by Erwin Panofsky. This research traces the historical environment that developed Alloway's understanding of Pop art imagery as icons that evolved from expendable to enduring. Section 1 historicizes how Pop art imagery came to be defined characteristically as ephemeral, how popular cultural images are defined as icons, and how Alloway's theories on Pop art icons developed from his ambition to legitimatize Pop art as high art instead of its classification as popular media. Section 2 traces the development of Alloway's theory on Pop art icons as enduring icons due to historical precedent of cultural signs in visual art and artist transformation of mass media images to legitimatize Pop art. Section 3 provides evidence that validates Alloway’s theory of enduring icons using James Rosenquist's oeuvre. The evidence of an enduring icon in Pop art broadens Alloway's critical influence in art analysis, confirms his belief in Pop art's eminence, and elaborates on the current defining characteristics of Pop art.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.