Roy Lichtenstein

““[Pop art] doesn’t look like a painting of something.
It looks like the thing itself.”


About Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein was born in 1923 in New York City. Roy’s father worked as a realtor. That’s someone who helps people find a house or apartment to live in. Roy’s mother took care of him and his little sister. She was also a very talented piano player. When he was a teenager Roy played the piano too…and the clarinet…and the jazz flute!

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As a child, Roy enjoyed hobbies like playing marbles, roller-skating, building model airplanes, and drawing. He also loved science. Roy was seven when the Depression began. It was a time when a lot of people didn’t have jobs or much money. But Roy was lucky and his family did okay.
Roy started middle school in 1936 at the Franklin School for Boys. Although he got to study science there, they didn’t offer any art classes. So Roy looked for other opportunities to learn about art. When he was fourteen he studied watercolor at Parson’s School of Design, where he painted still lifes. A few years later, he took a class where he painted from live models. While reading an art book, he saw a picture by the artist Pablo Picasso. Roy really liked Picasso and even got to see one of his most famous paintings, Guernica, at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Little did he know that people would someday see his own work in the same museum!
Roy went to college to study art, but he had to leave because of World War II. Even in the army, though, Roy found ways to have art in his life. He got a job drawing maps, and while he was stationed in Europe, he visited the Louvre and other museums. When he got back to the U.S., Roy completed his degree and kept on making—and teaching—art.
During his life, Roy didn’t stick with just one kind of art—he made drawings, paintings, ceramics, sculptures, prints, and even jewelry. In some of his work, he looked at other styles of art, like Cubism, and made them his own. But Roy is best known for his Pop art. Pop was a name that was given to a kind of art that was based on images of popular, everyday things, especially things that were related to shopping and entertainment or were made in large amounts by machines. Roy was inspired by ads, cartoons, and things you’d find around the house. He used ben-day dots from printing and dark outlines from comics to create his signature style.
It’s okay to laugh at Roy’s work; a lot of it was meant to be funny! But Roy was also asking hard questions with his work like: What should art be about? What makes art special? And what belongs in a museum?

Licensed Images Information

Art Critic, 1996 | Silkscreen on 300-gram Somerset textured paper | 26 x 19 1/8 inches | © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein
Goldfish Bowl II, 1978 | Painted and patinated bronze | 39 x 25 1/4 x 11 1/4 inches | © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein
Portrait, 1977 | Oil and magna on canvas | 60 x 50 inches | © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein
Keds, 1961 | Oil on canvas | 48 1/2 x 34 3/4 inches | © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Ben-Day Dots

Ben-day dots are circles of color that are placed close together, far apart, or on top of one another to create different effects. One color dot can be used or different colors dots can be used together to create new colors. Ben-day dots are often used in printing, where four main colors—cyan (a shade of blue), magenta (a shade of red), yellow, and black, are used to make every other color. Ben-day dots are always the same size and spaced the same distance apart from each other. There are different ways of making ben-day dots, but an easy way is to use a stencil. Roy Lichtenstein sometimes made his ben-day dots extra large. He wanted people to know he was using them!

Activities and Questions

  • Draw your own comic book.
  • Copy a picture by someone else but do something different to it—make it bigger, change the colors, or take part of it away.
  • Choose an object in your house. Draw or paint it in cartoon style, using dark outlines, filled with dots and stripes in some places and solid colors in others.
  • Make a ben-day dot stencil. Then experiment with using it to make different colors and effects.
  • Draw a picture of a word. Try to suggest what the word means by the way it looks.
  • Do you think Roy Lichtenstein’s art is funny? Why or why not? Do you think art in a museum can be funny?
  • Have you ever been to a museum? What kinds of art did you see there? Was it different from the kinds of objects and images you see at home, at school, or around your neighborhood? How?