Lichtenstein was born in 1923, and while he was not necessarily the first artist to explore pop culture in relationship to "high" culture, he certainly was on of the first American's to do so. (British artists such as Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi created some of the first examples of this type of art back in the early 1950s.) And while we smile and look fondly upon Liechtenstein's work today, at the time it was created, it ruffled the feathers of quite a number of art critics. The public loved it, even if they didn't quite understand it. The critics, on the other hand, understood it only to well, and saw this "mixing" of pop and high culture as a threat to their preconceived notions of modernism, mainstream art, and where art was "going". Where it was going was NOT, to their way of thinking, in the direction of comic strips, Brillo Boxes, Coke Bottles, or Marilyn Monroe portraits ad nauseum.
Today, we tend to dismiss Pop Art today as something of a momentary "blip" on the snowy radar screen of art history. And certainly it's brief "heyday" in the early 1960s would tend to support this notion. However, coming as it did near the end of the Modernist era, we have to wonder if the fears of critics such as Clement Greenberg, who sought to shape art history into a neat progression from point "A" in the past to point "B" in the future, weren't entirely unfounded. Pop shook up the art world, stretching definitions of art well past what even many of the abstract expressionists were willing to accept at the time. There was an ambivalence about it. The viewer, the critics, sometimes even the artist themselves, were uncertain whether Pop was EMBRACING popular culture or SATIRIZING it.