Psychedelic 60s

Psychedelia and the Psychedelic movement


  1. Pertaining to or characterized by hallucinations, distortions of perception and awareness, and sometimes psychotic-like behavior.
  2. A drug that produces such effects.
  3. An art style influenced by the prevalence of hallucinatory drugs, especially LSD, with typical designs featuring abstract swirls of intense color with curvilinear calligraphy reminiscent of Art Nouveau.

The psychedelic movement began in the mid 1960’s and had an effect, not just on music, but also on many aspects of popular culture. This included style of dress, language and the way people spoke, art, literature and philosophy.

The name “psychedelic” refers to drugs that were popular with the youth culture of the time. Posters for rock concerts tried to visually express the feeling of tripping out.

The visual motifs of psychedelic art include Art Nouveau-inspired curvilinear shapes, illegible hand-drawn type, and intense optical color vibration inspired by the pop art movement.


The end of WWII in 1945 brought about a post-war economic boom in the U.S. It also brought about an enormous spike in the birth rate, known as “the baby boom.” Between 1945 and 1957 nearly 76 million babies were born in America. By the middle 1960s, most of these kids were young adults.

As young people do, these “baby boomers” questioned America’s materialism and conservative cultural and political norms. During the 1960s a youth movement emerged, seeking to create an egalitarian society free from discrimination. The feminist movement and the Black movement are a direct result of this evolution.

anti-war poster

The internationally recognized symbol for peace was originally designed for the British nuclear disarmament movement by Gerald Holtom in 1958.

photograph from the Civil Rights Movement

Americans in the 1960s and 70s addressed many controversial issues — from civil rights, the Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation, and the environment to drug use, sexual freedom, and nonconformity. Many youth sought spiritual experiences through Eastern Mysticism and psychedelic drugs.

Music festivals and concerts were a prominent feature of the 60s landscape, and musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, The Who, Janice Joplin were the super-stars of the day. It’s hard to say whether psychedelic music influenced the counterculture or vise versa. But a unique artform found expression in band posters.

Influential Designers

Wes Wilson
Wes Wilson was one of the best-known designers of psychedelic posters. Most well known for designing posters for Bill Graham of the The Fillmore in San Francisco, he invented a style that is now synonymous with the peace movement, psychedelic era, and the 1960s. In particular, he is known for inventing and popularizing a psychedelic font around 1966 that made the letters look like they were moving or melting.

Wes Wilson

Victor Moscoso
Moscoso was a formally trained graphic designer who borrowed from comic books, Victorian images, Art Nouveau, and pop art. He used the concept of vibrating colors to create the ‘psychedelic’ effect in many of his pieces. The vibration is achieved by taking colors from the opposite end of the color wheel, each one having equal value (dark to light) and intensity (brightness).

Victor Moscoso

Victor Moscoso

 The Influence of  Op Art  & Pop Art

Op art, short for Optical art, is a style of abstraction that relies on geometric shapes, lines, and color juxtapositions to create optical illusions for the viewer. Gaining popularity in the 1960s, such art often features patterns, grids, and effects like curving or diminishing objects. The Op art movement was driven by artists who were interested in investigating various perceptual effects.

Bridget Riley

“Pop” was a term first applied to popular culture rather than to art, but it would be one of the goals of the Pop art movement to blur the boundaries between ‘high’ art and ‘low’ popular culture.

Pop Art was one of the United States’ major artistic movements of the 20th century. It actually was first coined in Britain in 1955 but unsurprisingly the Americans took up the consumerist cause with much greater effect and conviction, and became the pioneers of the movement. Pop art and pop culture refers to the products of the mass media evolving in the late 1950s and 60s and also to the works of art that draw upon popular culture: packaging, television, advertisements, comic books, the cinema. Pop art attempted to break down the barriers between high (old-fashioned) art and contemporary culture.

Pop Art emphasized the kitschy elements of popular culture as a protest against the elitist art culture and the seriousness that surrounded it. It marked a return to sharp paintwork and representational art. It glorified unappreciated objects and ordinary business. In doing so, it aimed to make art more meaningful for everyday people and came to target a broad audience. Although it gained many supporters for the way it was easy to comprehend, critics saw pop art as vulgar.

Pop Art made its way to the United States in the 1960s with the help of ground-breakers Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein became a household name for the way he used stencil-like dots, thick lines, bold colors, and thought bubbles to represent the comic book style. His paintings were the size of billboards.

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol became the most famous American pop artist when he used an industrial silkscreen process to paint such commercial objects as Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-cola bottles and for portraying major celebrities like Liz Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe. As Warhol and Lichtenstein brought together elements of sign painting, commercial art and literary imagery in their work, they became renowned for erasing the boundaries between popular and high culture.


There is near unanimous consensus among historians that the 1960’s witnessed the most significant social movements of the 20th century. As Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone Magazine put it ….

“The culture wars that began in the sixties, about drugs, about military incursions into foreign countries, about sex and human rights, the environment and on and on, are still being fought. All the issues are correct, and they are rooted in the activism of the sixties. The values have not only survived – in many ways they are the mainstream values of our times.”

More blogs on the 60s art scene can be found at these locations:
New York Times Article on Victor Moscoso :


Psychedelic Art Exchange
Buy, sell and learn about 1960s Psychedelic Rock Concert Posters

49 Responses to Psychedelic 60s

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    • Hello PartyRadio. My sources of information are listed at the end of the blog – just above where the comments begin. I also double-check most info with the “bible” of graphic design history: “A History of Graphic Design” by Phillip B. Meggs

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  9. Sharkey says:

    This post popped up a lot this week in my 1960’s class. Kudos to you – you’re getting a lot of great reviews on our discussion board. 🙂

  10. Tim Hodgetts says:

    The word Psychedelic comes from the latin word “psyche”, meaning mind, and the greek word “delos”, which means to manifest, or awaken, so there you go, psychedelic means “to awaken your mind”. I’d have thought you clever so and so’s would have known that, but then what can you expect from todays dumbed down academics?

  11. Tim Hodgetts, you are right. The quest to awaken the mind and discover new realities were (and still are) the reasons for the use psychedelics. My definition was meant to describe “psychedelic” in terms of an artistic style – I neglected to explain the why behind the what. Thank you for your comment.

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  19. gary says:

    I am a child of the 60s. Iam also an artist greatly influenced from the time. The hippie culture still gives me hope that people can live in peace.

  20. conradino23 says:

    I got here by browsing for psychedelic pop concepts and aesthetics, and your post is really useful! Thx.

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  24. Patty McKeever says:

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  30. avoparsley says:

    Great read. Love the helpful amount of provided information!

  31. Ash says:

    Hi Renée, looking to find an answer to something that’s been on my mind. Do you know who invented this psychedelic font? >

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  35. Peter Max should be on the site! He was the most influential artist of the day because mope Peter
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  40. Pingback: 1960’s The Op, Pop and Psychedelic movements – Harriet Fraser

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