(noun) - To appropriate is to take possession of something. Appropriation artists deliberately copy images to take possession of them in their art. They are not stealing or plagiarizing. They are not passing off these images as their very own. Not at all. Appropriation artists want the viewer to recognize the images they copy, and they hope that the viewer will bring all of his/her original associations with the image to the artist's new context, be it a painting, a sculpture, a collage, a combine or an entire installation.
With Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato) Andy Warhol takes as his subject a ubiquitous staple food found in millions of American homes and turns it into high art. With the unique candor he displayed in the best of his early Pop art works he appropriates the curved lines and iconic graphic imagery of a tin of canned soup and re-examines them in the context of their pure visual qualities. Campbell's Soup Cans' reliance on themes from popular culture helped to usher in pop art as a major art movement in the USA.
This controversy led to a great deal of debate about the merits and ethics of such work. Warhol's motives as an artist were questioned, and they continue to be topical to this day. The large public commotion helped transform Warhol from being an accomplished 1950s commercial illustrator to a notable fine artist, and it helped distinguish him from other rising pop artists. Although commercial demand for his paintings was not immediate, Warhol's association with the subject led to his name becoming synonymous with the Campbell's Soup can paintings.