Roy Lichtenstein: The Art World’s Prince of Pop

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC – December 23, 2012

In 1961, at the urging of a fellow Rutgers University art professor, Roy Lichtenstein loaded up a station wagon with a few pieces of his new art work, and, accompanied by his colleague, headed across the river to New York to try to convince an influential gallery owner that his work should be exhibited. Among those paintings was “Look Mickey, 1961.” On a first look, the gallery owner was impressed and Lichtenstein was on his way to sharing billing with Andy Warhol as the 2 most noted artists in the school of visual creation that came to be known as Pop Art.

But as art historian Avis Berman points out, Lichtenstein was no overnight sensation. “His life was divided into 2 roughly symmetrical halves: 38 years of obscurity and 36 years of permanent fame,” Berman says. “He hung in and hung on.”

Berman’s remarks came during a lecture entitled Roy Lichtenstein: Voices from the Archive she recently delivered at the National Gallery of Art as part of that institution’s major retrospective of Lichtenstein’s work now on display.

As consultant for the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, Berman has conducted more than 200 interviews with the artist, his family, and those who knew him. One of the most unusual aspects of her talk was that it was punctuated more than a dozen times by the actual words recorded from Lichtenstein himself. “Call it an art historian’s version of a Tony Bennett duet,” Berman joked before she began her talk.

Berman said Lichtenstein, best known for his trademark use of benday dots that he used to create works lifted from cartoons and comic strips, was constantly intrigued by the question – what is art? As Lichtenstein put it, “I was always baffled by why are these few marks art and these few marks are not art? Why is one valued and the other one isn’t?”

On Pop art, Lichtenstein said, “Part of the intention on Pop is to mask its intentions with humor. But Pop should also tell you something you didn’t know.”

Berman said the oral interviews have greatly expanded the understanding of both Lichtenstein and his work. “He had no impulse to accumulate documentation and he lived in a time when the telephone was replacing the letter as the means of communication,” she noted. “The more we can understand the background of an artist the more easy it is to understand the art.”

For example, her interviews revealed that despite his fame, Lichtenstein was extremely generous. “He gave anyone who did something nice for him or anyone who worked for him some of his art work,” Berman said.

Much of Lichtenstein’s reputation rests on the fact that he upended virtually every prejudice of high art that existed at the time he began his Pop work. However, Lichtenstein admitted that his breakthrough was really unplanned. “My ability was way above my awareness. The rationales came later. I guess anyone can become a crazed genius for a second,” he joked during one of his interviews.”

Lichtenstein definitely believed that all art isn’t really new, but is based on the art of the past. “It takes a lot of generations of artists looking at other artists to produce new art,” he said.

Berman said she doesn’t agree with the contention that Lichtenstein was simply aping work others had originally created. “He didn’t just copy. He changed and strengthened the original completely. He looked at what had been overlooked,” she said.

The art historian maintains that Lichtenstein and Warhol will remain significant figures in the history of art. “Pop was denigrated but it has come to be recognized as a legitimate school of art. It captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s,” she contended.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips

Welcome to Talking ‘Bout My Generation

Hello. My name is Dave Price and I’m the creator, curator, and chief content producer for Talking ‘Bout My Generation, a DC-based project which deals with interesting or important topics to Baby Boomers, the large generation born between 1946 (the 1st year after World War II) to 1964 (the year the Beatles came to America).

Since I arrived on the planet in 1952, I have been around to personally witness all but the first 6 years of the continuing Baby Boom era. When I retired from the 9-to-5 work world in 2017, I decided to use the skills I had developed in my 12 years in journalism, 20 years in high school English teaching, and 9 years as an educational consultant to create and operate the project (and yes, I did steal the title from the 1965 Who single).

During our 1st 2 years, highlights included the researching, writing, and publishing of my 1st book Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Youth Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock Generation. (And yes, I did steal the title from the Beatles 1969 single – I’m sure you see a pattern developing here). I also guided Baby-Boom-themed tours at the former museum of news the Newseum on Pennsylvania, designed and delivered walking tours for Smithsonian Associates, and presented a series of interactive lectures at the Smithsonian and other DC venues.

However, the arrival of the Pandemic forced us to temporarily shelve all of live our programs. But now we’ve redesigned and revamped our operation for 2022 and beyond.

Throughout the year, we will be unveiling new blogs, articles, podcasts, and webcasts. We will also be offering new programs, presentations, and tours that can be delivered in-person or on-line.

This website is designed for you to discover all that we offer. I believe there is much here for you to enjoy whether you are a Baby Boomer, or someone from a younger generation who wants to learn more about the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and early 80s, or how the past is directly influencing our lives today.

if you do like what we’re offering, please subscribe to the email link above so you can get regular updates on what’s new and what’s news at Talking ‘Bout My Generation: The Baby Boomer Experience.

Talking ‘Bout My Generation Podcasts & Webcasts

Available Now  

On the Record Talking about the Grooviest One-Hit Wonders of the 70s With co-host Baldi Silva, singer/songwriter of the band Toby Beau 

Launching in June

The Rhymes of ’69: Truth, Justice & the American Way A divisive, dangerous war of words, partisanship, protest & deadly violence is again raging over ideas of what our country was, what it is now, and what it should be, much as was the case in the 60s & early 70s. That was bad, but is this was? 
The Keys to Rock & Roll:Talking about the great organ sounds & songs of the 60

Scheduled to Debut This Summer

Want Great Music: We’ve Got You Covered Talking about some of the greatest songs in classic rock, soul & country from Hall of Fame artists … plus the coolest covers of those tunes recorded by other performers.   With co-host Baldi Silva, singer/songwriter of the band Toby Beau 
Come Together: The Baby Boom Experience – Then and Now Then – One event & aspects of a specific year (1945 to 1985) Now – Baby boomers in the news … Releases (music, books, films etc.) … All Things Must Pass – In Memorium 

Our Talks/Lectures/Presentations Available for Any Group, Organization, or Venue

Talks from my book Come Together

Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On: How Did Rock and Roll Come to Be?

  • 12 Changes That Paved the Way for the Rock and Roll of the 50s
  • What Was the 1st Rock and Roll Record?
  • Rockin’ ‘Round the Clock: DJ Alan Freed, the combo band Bill Haley and His Comets, and the movie Blackboard Jungle ignite a rock and roll explosion

Setting the Stage for the Beatles

  • The King and Court: Elvis and 6 other rock and roll pioneers who greatly influenced the Beatles
  • A New Frontier: The music of the Kennedy years (1960 to 1963)

From Rock and Roll to Rock: A 6-year musical road trip from Liverpool to Woodstock

  • 1964 – The Beatles and the Music of the British Invasion
  • 1965 – With Rubber Soul, The Beatles, Under the Influence of Bob Dylan and Pot, Create Song Lyrics with More Mature Meanings
  • 1966 – Garage Rock Rules, but Albums like the Beatles’ Revolver Begin Making LPs More Important Than 45 Singles
  • 1967 – With the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s as Its Soundtrack, a Summer of Love Gives Birth to Psychedelic Rock and the Hippie Lifestyle
  • 1968 – The Music of the Beatles, the Stones, and Others Reflect Turbulent Times
  • 1969 – The Beatles Stay Home But from Atlantic Pop to Woodstock to the Isle of Wright to Altamont, It’s a Year of the Big Music Festival
  • from Our Rock and Pop Culture Division – Rock of Agers Icons

Rock Icons and the Real World Series

The Bands

  • Here, There, and Everywhere: How the World Would Be Much Different Without the Influences of the Beatles
  • What a Drag It Is Getting Old: What the Rolling Stones Can Teach All of Us About Aging
  • A Traveling Show of Deadheads and Tie-Dye: The Radical, Yet Highly Successful Business Plan of the Grateful Dead

Individual Artists

  • The Answer Is Blowin’ in the Wind: The Great Protest Anthems of Bob Dylan
  • Is a Dream a Lie If It Don’t Come True or Is It Something Worse: Bruce Springsteen and the Unfilled Promise of the American Dream
  • Rebel, Rebel: David Bowie Drives GlamRock, Androgyny, and Gay Life Style

45 Revolutions a Minute: Singing Out for Social Change 

  • Just Show Me Some Respect: Songs Celebrating Gender Equality & Female Freedom 
  • Keep on Pushin’: The Greatest Songs of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud: The Songs of Black Pride and Power
  • We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Anti-Vietnam War Songs & Peace Classics
  • Smile on Your Brother: Songs Calling for Peace, Love, & Understanding
  • Look at Mother Nature on the Run Since the 1970s: Songs to Save Our Earth

The Free Speech & Protest Series

  • They Are Women, Hear Them Roar: DC Protests for the Vote, Female Equality, and Reproductive Rights 
  • They Had a Dream: 7 Decades of Civil Rights Marches and Rallies in DC
  • Hell No, We Won’t Go: The Pro-Peace, Anti-War Protests of the 60s and 70s
  • We’re Coming Out: The Fight for LGBTQ Rights in DC 
  • It’s Nature’s Way of Telling Us (Something’s Wrong): DC As One of the Centers of the Struggle to Save the Planet 
  • 1970s: Songs to Save Our Earth

Looking at the Darker Sides of Our Government by Decade 

  • The 1920s The KKK Rides Again: America First, White Pride, and the 1st Resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan
  • The 1930sBrother, Can You Spare a Dime? High Society, the Common Man, and the Great Depression
  • The 1940s – Behind the Wire: World War II, FDR, and the Japanese-American Internment Camps
  • The 1950s – Freedom Under Fire: Congress, McCarthyism, The Red Scare, the Lavender Scare, the Comic Book Controversy, and the Fear of Juvenile Delinquents, Blackboard Jungles, & Rebels without a Cause
  • The 1960s No Rockin’ in the Free World: J. Edgar Hoover & The FBI’s Secret Files on Rock and Roll Artiists, “Filthy” Songs, and “Anti-American” Albums 
  • The 1970s  One Toke Over the Line: Richard Nixon, His Enemies List, and the War on Drugs, the Youth Counterculture, and Rock Music

We Can’t Know What We Don’t Know

Claude Nadir in the role I knew him – Dunbar educator
Nadir as “Philosopher King” rap MC

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC 4.16.2014

We often think we know people, but many times we don’t know them as well as we think we do. Case in point – my relationship with my fellow educator Claude Nadir.

I met Nadir 3 years ago when I began consulting at Dunbar High School. Dunbar was once the preeminent black high school in America, but, like its urban counterparts around the country, it has fallen on hard times. Only 18 percent of its students read on grade level. That number is even lower for math.

At the time I met him, Nadir was a media specialist. But it quickly became apparent he was much more – he was a mover, a shaper, a problem solver. For the next 3 years, we worked on several projects together. As you might expect, we also came to share our frustration with the chaos and counter-intuitiveness that comes with urban education, especially in a district as troubled as DC. But Nadir, an indefatigable worker, never gave up his belief that the school, with innovation and hard work, could be turned around. He had expressed that optimism in the state-of-the-art web site and the special radio spots he had designed for Dunbar.

When I last saw Nadir , he was making corrections to his plan for the state testing that was going on in the school. He was still at Dunbar, even though it was nearly 6 p.m. and the students had been gone for 2-and-a-half hours. Ever the perfectionist, Nadir was erasing some mistakes he had made and was once again revising the revisions of the revisions he had already made.

We joked. We exchanged a few pleasantries. We said goodbye.  I left for a Twilight school program at another school. Nadir stayed to finish his work.

On Monday, I received a shocking text from one of my fellow consultants. He had learned that Nadir, only 34, had died. The text didn’t contain any details, so I rushed to the internet to see what I could find.

Googling his name, I discovered that Nadir indeed had died. But I also found out that there was so much about Claude – just one of the many names he was known as – that I had never known.

A piece from the ArtsDesk section of the Washington City Paper described Akil Nadir as a “Philosopher King, the straight-ahead MC known for his battle rhymes and sophisticated bravado” who had “influenced the course of D.C. hip-hop” and produced “grown man rap music.”

It also said that Nadir was known to his family and friends as Claude Lumpkin. In his local rap career, he had variously performed as Cool Cee Brown and in a duo known as Dirty Water.

City Paper writer Marcus J. Moore reported that Nadir had first navigated local hip-hop as a teenager in the mid-1990s, when MCs were confined to small clubs on U Street because Chuck Brown and go-go then ruled the District.

Moore quoted local artist DJ RBI on Nadir and his rap rep. “He dealt with a lot of issues grown men could relate to,” DJ RBI said. “Certain guys come along and remind you of how great the culture of rhyming and making music can be. He was somebody people really paid attention to.”

Well, not everyone paid attention to Nadir’s music. I didn’t. I didn’t even know it existed. But exploring Nadir’s life on line further, I did find the frank, funny Claude I knew.

On his blog, Nadir had this to say about the controversial issue of standardized testing:

I was telling you yesterday about how we just wrapped up the 2011 standardized tests at work. And I thought later that you all might want to know what I think about standardized tests.

I think they suck.

And maybe you didn’t want to know what I think. I told you anyway because I know what’s best for you.

They suck because they’re dumb. The kids don’t take them seriously because in DC they don’t count for anything. In New York City, you can’t graduate from high school unless you pass their big standardized test. Same thing in Texas. In DC, however, because we’re all so damned smart, we’ve invested millions of dollars into a testing system that the students are supposed to take seriously because …because … because… if they don’t do well, all the teachers they hate will lose their jobs.

Brilliant!

But I guess I can’t really complain about standardized tests and how inadequate they are in the business of measuring student achievement until someone comes up with a better idea. And since we can’t crack open their skulls, as much as we may want to, and see what’s going on in there, tests will have to do.

Still, like one of my students said on the first day of testing, “I don’t see why we gotta take this stupid- ass test anyway. A nigga ain’t gone know what a nigga don’t know.”


Well, Claude Lumpkin Akil Nadir, that doesn’t apply only to young black men. It applies to 62-year-old white men, too. I’m sorry I never got to know about your musical life. I know I would have liked it. And I also know that if you put even a portion of your amazing effort and immense heart into your rapping that I watched you put into your educating, it would have definitely been the opposite of stupid-ass. So goodbye, Philosopher King. It was good to know you, even if I didn’t know as well as I could have.