In this letter to the Smithsons, the British artist Richard Hamilton uses the term "Pop Art." His assumption that the Smithsons were already aware of the term (he lists its characteristics but does not feel the need to define it as a new term) indicates that "Pop Art" as a term was already known in the U.K. by January 1957 when the letter was written. The letter appears in Collected Words 1953-1982 by Richard Hamilton, London 1982. gc.
Letter to Peter and Alison Smithson
by Richard Hamilton
16th January 1957
Dear Peter and Alison,
I have been thinking about our conversation of the other evening and thought that it might be a good idea to get something on paper, as much to sort it out for myself as to put a point of view to you.
There have been a number of manifestations in the post-war years in London which I would select as important and which have a bearing on what I take to be an objective:
Parallel of Life and Art
(investigation into an imagery of general value)
Man, Machine and Motion
(investigation into a particular technological imagery)
Reyner Banham's research on automobile styling
Ad image research (Paolozzi, Smithson, McHale)
Independent Group discussion on Pop Art - Fine Art relationship
House of the Future
(conversion of Pop Art attitudes in industrial design to scale of domestic architecture)
This is Tomorrow
Group 2 presentation of Pop Art and perception material attempted impersonal treatment. Group 6 presentation of human needs in terms of a strong personal idiom.
Looking at this list is is clear that the Pop Art/Technology background emerges as the important feature.
The disadvantage (as well as the great virtue) of the TIT show was its incoherence and obscurity of language.
My view is that another show should be as highly disciplined and unified in conception as this one was chaotic. Is it possible that the participants could relinquish their existing personal solutions and try to bring about some new formal conception complying with a strict, mutually agreed programme?
Suppose we were to start with the objective of providing a unique solution to the specific requirement of a domestic environment e.g. some kind of shelter, some kind of equipment, some kind of art. This solution could then be formulated and rated on the basis of compliance with a table of characteristics of Pop Art.
Pop Art is:
Popular (designed for a mass audience)
Transient (short-term solution)
Young (aimed at youth)
This is just a beginning. Perhaps the first part of our task is the analysis of Pop Art and the production of a table. I find I am not yet sure about the "sincerity" of Pop Art. It is not a characteristic of all but it is of some - at least, a pseudo-sincerity is. Maybe we have to subdivide Pop Art into its various categories and decide into which category each of the subdivisions of our project fits. What do you think?
(The letter was unanswered but I used the suggestion made in it as the theoretical basis for a painting called Hommage á Chrylsler Corp., the first product of a slowly contrived programme. R.H.)