Richard Hamilton, Just What is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, so Appealing? – Smarthistory (2022)

Richard Hamilton, Just What is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, so Appealing?, 1956, collage, 26 cm × 24.8 cm (Kunsthalle Tübingen, Tübingen)

Consumer products and mass media

In this iconic collage by the British artist Richard Hamilton, created in 1956, a midcentury living room is filled to the brim with logos and cut-out images of consumer products. At center, a lampshade is emblazoned with the emblem for the auto manufacturer, Ford. The cover of a comic book hangs as “wall-art” and a can of tinned ham sits on the coffee table, like a decorative vase. Found images and mass media artifacts are everywhere we look in this image—on the television, out the window, up the stairs, and on the floor.

Richard Hamilton, Just What is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, so Appealing?, 1956, collage, 26 cm × 24.8 cm (Kunsthalle Tübingen, Tübingen)

In fact, even the couple who occupy the room appear to us as commodities. The wife, a nude model, is perched seductively on the couch, while the husband, a Herculean body builder, shows off his covetable physique, wielding a suggestive Tootsie pop by his waist. Often interpreted as a kind of idealized, modern-day “Adam and Eve,” the couple are also products on display, no different from the branded and packaged goods that adorn their home.

The title of this art work takes the form of a question—Just What is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, so Appealing?phrasing that echoes the titles of articles in popular magazines and which can be answered somewhere in the dizzying array of consumer imagery strewn across its the work’s surface. The domestic space, Hamilton asserts, has become prime real estate for the advertising industry, and is an arena in which middle class aspirations are on full display in the form of futurist vacuum cleaners and television sets.

Following the victory of Allied forces in World War Two, the United States in particular experienced a period of economic bounty; factories that had been mobilized to create airplanes, artillery, and other military necessities were repurposed towards the manufacturing of popular culture, luxury items, and household products that were then exported worldwide. Produced amidst the arrival of American goods in the United Kingdom, Hamilton’s collage is one of the first works of what would be later known as the Pop Art movement: a genre which both celebrated and critiqued subjects such as consumerism, celebrities, and the cheapening of modern culture amidst the turn towards mass-production.

(Video) Richard Hamilton, "Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?" Areli C.

Pop Art’s British origins

While many of the most recognizable names in Pop Art are American artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Claes Oldenberg, who created paintings and sculptures inspired by comic books and advertisements throughout the 1960s, the movement actually originated in postwar London. In fact, a half decade before Warhol exhibited his famous Campbell’s Soup paintings, it was Hamilton who gave the movement its first official definition. Describing his ideas to his friends, the architectsPeter and Alison Smithson, Hamilton wrote that:

Pop Art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business Richard Hamilton, Letter to Peter and Alison Smithson, 16 January 1957

Hannah Höch, Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany, 1919–20, collage, mixed media

The terms above were rarely used in relation to fine art, which is normally ascribed a sense of timelessness, seriousness of purpose, and significant material value. Pop artists sought to challenge the elitism of the academic tradition, much like the artists of the Dada movement of the World War I era, who challenged the way in which art is often used as a symbol of socio-economic status. Pop artists were interested in critiquing the status of art as a commodity object, and often depicted or made use of artifacts of popular culture, advertisements, and mass media.

In Britain, Pop Art developed alongside a similar turn in intellectual history. For instance, the New Left writer Raymond Williams wrote an important essay called “Culture is Ordinary” in 1958, which proposed that we should not think of “culture” as a term that applies only to pursuits of the leisured class. He wanted scholars to examine a broader definition of culture as a “whole way of life” whose expression is evident in popular films, novels, advertisements, and other mass-produced media. Art critic Lawrence Alloway, who coined the term “mass popular art” in 1955, likewise argued for the importance of art that engaged with mass communications and contemporary visual culture. [1] Similarly, Pop artists like Richard Hamilton were interested in drawing our attention to the desires, culture, homes, and interests of regular, everyday people—not just the financialelite.

The Independent Group and “This is Tomorrow”

While Just What is It… is considered to be among the most foundational works of Pop Art, this small collage was initially not created as a work of art. At just 12 inches square, it was produced as the cover design for the catalogue of an exhibition called This is Tomorrow, an immersive, collaboratively produced installation of art and design that was conceived by a collective called The Independent Group, of which Hamilton was part.

An advertisement for the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s futuristic exhibition ‘This is Tomorrow’. 1956

(Video) PopArt: Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?

The Independent Group was a cohort of young artists, designers, architects, and writers affiliated with the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. At the time, the museum typically exhibited Modernist paintings and sculpture, but by the late 1950s this kind of art felt out-of-step with the contemporary moment. In the early 1950s, members of the Independent Group met to discuss topics in visual culture that lay outside the traditional arena of fine art.

Eduardo Paolozzi, I was a Rich Man’s Plaything, 1947, printed paper on card, collage in Bunk!, 35.9 × 23.8 cm (Tate)

In 1952, Eduardo Paolozzi, for instance, gave a lecture entitled ‘Bunk!’ that was illustrated by projections of collages made from comic book clippings, magazine advertisements, film stills, and photographs of celebrities. [2]

In 1956, the Independent Group produced one of their most important exhibitions. Entitled This is Tomorrow, the show was held at London’s Whitechapel Gallery. It was divided into eleven immersivesections, each curated by agroupof artists, architects, and other collaborators, who treated their contribution as a manifesto for contemporary, and future, visual culture. They each designed a poster and were given six pages in the exhibition catalogue.

Cardboard cutout of Robby the Robot in the This is Tomorrow exhibition, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1965

Hamilton was a member of Group Two, along with architect John Voelcker, and fellow artists such as John McHale. Theirs was among the most memorable displays in This is Tomorrow; it featured dizzying Op Artpanels and a life-size collage of cinema posters and cardboard cut-outs. For instance, that famous press photograph of Marilyn Monroe—flirtatiously posing above a breezy subway grate in The Seven Year Itch—was juxtaposed with Robby the Robot, an iconic character in the 1956 science-fiction film, Forbidden Planet.

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Pop Culture in the Space Age

Advertisement for Armstrong Royal Floors in Ladies’ Home
Journal
(June 1955)

Art historians have traced many of the original contexts for the images that Hamilton collages in Just What is It…? For instance, the artist began the collage with a backdrop drawn from an advertisement for Armstrong Royal Floors, which was included in the June 1955 issue of the American magazine Ladies’ Home Journal.

This domestic interior scene provides the basic setting into which Hamilton pasted new images, such as the Hoover Constellations vacuum cleaner, Stromberg-Carlson television, and Armour Star Ham, among other products.

However, not every collage element comes from the marketing world.

Richard Hamilton, Just What is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, so Appealing?, 1956, collage, 26 cm × 24.8 cm (Kunsthalle Tübingen, Tübingen)

For instance, Hamilton topped his domestic space with a planetary “ceiling”—a view of Earth, which had been photographed using an aerial camera at a height of about 100 miles. (This came from the personal archive of fellow artist McHale, who used collage elements to form images of futuristic, robotic creatures). Its inclusion complicates the sense of scale in Hamilton’s collage, as we move from the intimate space of a residential interior to the expansive realm of the cosmos.

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It would be another fifteen years before the publication of the first photograph of Earth in its entirety—the so-called “Blue Marble” captured by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972—but both the Cold War and Space Age were on the horizon, and public fascination with planetary vision was already palpable in popular culture. As Hamilton himself later wrote:

We seemed to be taking a course towards a rosy future and our changing, Hi-Tech, world was embraced with a starry-eyed confidence; a surge of optimism which took us into the 1960s. Though clearly an ‘interior’ there are complications that cause us to doubt the categorisation. The ceiling of the room is a space-age view of Earth. The carpet is a distant view of people on a beach. It is an allegory rather than a representation of a room. [3]

As an allegory of the future—one marked by its fixation on “tomorrow”—Hamilton’s collage is one of the major works of the postwar age to truly represent what it means to be “contemporary.”

Notes:

[1] See Lawrence Alloway, “Pop Art the Words,” Topics in American Art Since 1945 (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1975), pp. 119–22.[2] The Independent Group also produced several collaborative exhibitions that drew together art, photography, science, and design. Among these were Parallel of Art and Life (1953), which celebrated new visual technologies such as microscopic or X-ray photography, and made it possible to see visual phenomena that are invisible to the naked eye. They also produced Man, Machine, and Motion (1955), which was themed around mechanical speed and travel. Hamilton himself conceived of the latter, and wrote that the included photographs were meant to cumulatively represent “a visual study of man’s relationship to moving machines.” Richard Hamilton, Lawrence Gowing, and Peter Reyner-Banham, Man, Machine, and Motion. [exh. cat.] (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: King’s College, the University of Durham, 1955).[3] Quoted in Richard Hamilton: Exteriors, Interiors, Objects, People [exh. cat.] (Stuttgart: Edition Hansjörg Mayer, 1990): p. 44.

Additional resources:

Tate: Independent Group

Tate: The Legacy of the Independent Group conference

Richard Hamilton, ed. David Sylvester and Richard Morphet (Millbank, London: Tate Gallery Publications, 1992). [exh. cat.]

This is Tomorrow,ed. Lawrence Alloway, Reyner Banham, David Lewis (London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1956). [exh. cat]

Hal Foster, The First Pop Age: Painting and Subjectivity in the Art of Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter and Ruscha (Princeton University Press, 2011)

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John-Paul Stonard, “Pop in the Age of Boom: Richard Hamilton’s ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?,” The Burlington Magazine 149, no. 1254 (September 2007): pp. 607–620

Cite this page as: Dr. Allison Young, "Richard Hamilton, Just What is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, so Appealing?," in Smarthistory, December 6, 2021, accessed August 28, 2022, https://smarthistory.org/richard-hamilton-just-what-is-it/.

FAQs

Where Was Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different So Appealing made? ›

Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? was created in 1956 for the catalogue of the exhibition This Is Tomorrow in London, England in which it was reproduced in black and white. In addition, the piece was used in posters for the exhibit.

Whose Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different so appealing could be seen as a manifesto for the Pop Art movement? ›

Hamilton's collage had a sexy, effervescent atmosphere

In 1956, Hamilton created his famous collage Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?, which is considered a landmark in 20th Century British art because of its startling prophetic qualities.

Why is Richard Hamilton important to Pop Art? ›

He had long used popular culture images for his art — way before Andy Warhol did. Long before Americans Andy Warhol or James Rosenquist became known for their pop art, Richard Hamilton was shaking up Britain's art scene, introducing mass production techniques into painting.

What is Richard Hamilton best known for? ›

Richard Hamilton is often credited as the father of Pop Art. His concepts and works influenced the movement in both the U.K. and the U.S. The piece "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing" from 1956 is usually identified as the first true Pop Art piece.

What does Pop Art stand for? ›

The Pop in Pop Art stands for popular, and that word was at the root of the fine arts movement. The main goal of Pop Art was the representation of the everyday elements of mass culture. As a result, celebrities, cartoons, comic book characters, and bold primary colors all featured prominently in Pop Art.

Why does Pop Art appeal to you? ›

Pop Art is approachable. Taking clues from popular culture, pop art's subjects are things the general public deals with every single day. From soup cans to superheros, Pop Art reflect what we like best about the world around us – food, entertainment, products, consumption. 3.

What technique did Hamilton use to create his work? ›

Newspapers, magazines and advertisements became the source of his ironic images, and were the inspiration for his art-making techniques. Hamilton was a committed printmaker who embraced new technologies, often combining cut-paper collage with offset lithography, screen printing and photography.

How does Pop Art influence today? ›

Pop art continues to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration for fashion, design, the entertainment industry, adversing methods, popular culture in general, over and over again.

What was Richard Hamilton inspired by? ›

Starting in 1948, Hamilton found himself heavily influenced by the works of James Joyce and Marcel Duchamp. Hamilton did the illustrations for James's book Ulysses. Hamilton began to exhibit his work at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, where Eduardo Paolozzi displayed his collage work.

What is the most famous piece of Pop Art? ›

What Is the Most Famous Piece of Pop Art? One of, or perhaps the most recognizable pieces of Pop art is the famous Andy Warhol's Marilyn Diptych, which he created in 1962. The piece is painted on silkscreen and depicts 50 images of the famous actress Marilyn Munroe.

When was Pop Art popular? ›

Pop Art emerged as an art movement during the 1950s in America and Britain and peaked in the 1960s. The movement was inspired by popular and commercial culture in the western world and began as a rebellion against traditional forms of art.

What materials does Richard Hamilton use? ›

Hamilton was shocked to discover that his materials—so crucial to his compositions of contemporary life—had not survived two years intact. He quickly experimented with plywood, acrylic glass, and different plasticizers.

Why is Richard Hamilton called RIP? ›

When he was a kid, Hamilton inherited his father's nickname, Rip. The elder Hamilton's mother gave it to him 46 years ago because he used to tear off his diapers as a baby. The father decided to give it to his son, he said, because "every superstar needs a nickname."

Who invented Pop Art movement? ›

The first definition of Pop Art was provided by British curator Lawrence Alloway, who invented the term 'Pop Art' in 1955 to describe a new form of art characterized by the imagery of consumerism, new media, and mass reproduction.

How do you draw pop art? ›

Start with a simple line drawing of your subject. You could trace a picture or draw your own. Then using felt tip pens, colour in, draw dots or add lines to create different textures. You can experiment with different colours and patterns, add the dots closer together or lines further apart.

When did pop art end? ›

It was dissolved in 1970. Contemporary of American Pop Art—often conceived as its transposition in France—new realism was along with Fluxus and other groups one of the numerous tendencies of the avant-garde in the 1960s.

What is today's art called? ›

Strictly speaking, the term "contemporary art" refers to art made and produced by artists living today. Today's artists work in and respond to a global environment that is culturally diverse, technologically advancing, and multifaceted.

Which of the following artists Below is well known for his still life paintings? ›

Paul Cezanne is considered the greatest master of still life painting and this work is his most celebrated painting in the genre.

What is one characteristic typical of Edward Hopper's approach to painting? ›

What is one characteristic typical of Edward Hopper's approach to painting? a realistic style with strong curvilinear rhythms.

Which 20th century artists were influenced by African artforms? ›

1905, when artists began to recognize the aesthetic value of African sculpture. Such artists as Vlaminck, Derain, Picasso, and Modigliani were influenced by African art forms. Interest in the arts of Africa has flourished, and many modern Western artists have rediscovered the enduring qualities of African art.

What do art historians analyze to understand a work of art? ›

At the most basic level, art historians analyze function by identifying types—an altarpiece, portrait, Book of Hours, tomb, palace, etc. Studying the history and use of a given type provides a context for understanding specific examples.

What is the purpose of still life painting? ›

The goal of a still life composition is to direct the viewer's eye through a painting and lead them toward what the artist thinks is important.

Why still life drawing is important? ›

Why make still life drawings? Still lifes will make you overall better at drawing. They are a great way to practice creating shapes and building three-dimensional forms through shading techniques of realistic lighting. You have to use many different skills when you're working on this sort of drawing.

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