Abstract Expressionism Art Movement - History, Artists and Artworks - Artlex (2023)

Abstract Expressionism Art Movement - History, Artists and Artworks - Artlex (1)

What is abstract expressionism?

Abstract Expressionism is a modern art movement that developed in New York City after World War II and was initially popular during the 1940s and 1950s. Abstract Expressionism is recognized for its large-scale paintings consisting of large blocks of colors and non-traditional treatment of materials and processes. Abstract expressionist artists avoided grouping together for a cohesive artistic style, but shared an interest in expressing strong emotions and abstract subjects through their art.

Notable abstract expressionist work

Abstract Expressionism Art Movement - History, Artists and Artworks - Artlex (2)
Abstract Expressionism Art Movement - History, Artists and Artworks - Artlex (3)
Abstract Expressionism Art Movement - History, Artists and Artworks - Artlex (4)
Abstract Expressionism Art Movement - History, Artists and Artworks - Artlex (5)
Abstract Expressionism Art Movement - History, Artists and Artworks - Artlex (6)

History of Abstract Expressionism

At the time of World War II, many artists fled Europe to the United States to escape the violence and destruction caused by this war and left behind by the First World War. Many of these artists settled in and around New York City and began to cultivate their artistic practices in this new space. In light of the destruction faced by many European cities, along with the influx of European artists to the United States, New York City soon replaced Paris as the center of the Western art world.

The term abstract expressionism was first used to describe the American art movement in 1946 by art critic Robert Coates. However, Abstract Expressionism was used as early as 1919 by art writers to describe German Expressionism and later the works of Wassily Kandinsky [1]. This earlier term referred to the expressionist art form that was moving towards abstraction; an abstract form ofexpressionism. Abstract expressionism, on the other hand, became the name of the American art movement specifically, and in the 1940s American painting rose to the level of European modernism.

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American abstract expressionism was influenced by existing modernist movements such as surrealism,fauvismySynthetic Cubismthat emerged at the beginning of the 20th century in France and Germany. Surrealism deeply influenced Abstract Expressionist paintings, as Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist paintings share a common interest in automatic or subconscious creation.

Abstract expressionism lacked a cohesive style. Instead, he had techniques and concepts that united artists under the umbrella of Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism broke with the accepted conventions of modernist painting by favoring complete composition and an almost total abstraction of the subject. Action painting and color field painting were two techniques that Abstract Expressionist artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Arshile Gorky used to express intense emotional energy.

Much of the artwork produced during the interwar period, especially in the early 1940s, was heavily political.Cubism,futurism,Dadaism, Expressionism, Abstractionism and Surrealism were among the movements cited by US Senator Joseph McCarthy for their transgressive and “destructive” qualities [2]. Abstract Expression seemed to go unnoticed, probably because it lacked an identifiable theme. Due to its total abstraction and radical new directions, abstract expressionist painting was able to convey social and political critiques without being immediately recognizable, fueling its popularity rather than gaining widespread censorship.

action painting

action paintingIt was one of the artistic techniques that influential abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, James Brooks and related artists used to convey powerful emotions through the process of creating their art. Artists had been using the action painting technique since the 1940s and art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term Action Painting in 1952 [3]. Action painting shifted the focus from the importance of the chosen subject and instead valued the process used to document the emotions of the artists.

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Action painting involves the spontaneous application of paint to a canvas, resulting in thick paint application, unpredictable brushstrokes, and pictorial gestures. The characteristic abstraction of action painting is the result of the artist throwing, splashing, dripping, and smearing paint on the canvas. Abstract Expressionist painters often applied paint with a large brush, but sometimes they completely abandoned the traditional painting tools crucial to Western European painting and poured paint onto the canvas directly from the container.

The almost automatic gestures of action painting are closely aligned with the automatism and subconscious movement favored by the Surrealists. With action painting, the painting was seen as a direct link to the subconscious mind, mental state and emotions of the artist. Through random movement and the physical application of paint, the artist was able to translate the subconscious mind into a dynamic, abstract work of art.

At the time, German Expressionists also focused on expressing emotions rather than wishes or rationalizations for destabilizing events in modern life. However, German Expressionist paintings still had a recognizable subject, despite their turn towards abstraction. Action painting, on the other hand, existed in stark contrast to the carefully planned paintings of earlier art movements and was anti-figurative. The aim of Abstract Expressionism was to capture the overall feel of a scene or subject, rather than all of its intricate visual details.

Jackson Pollock, although criticized at the time, became one of the most famous action painters in the history of modern art. There are many factors that contribute to Pollock's monumental status, but his radical approach to painting is what made him so influential. Pollock often used house paint instead of traditional oil paint and placed his huge canvases on the floor rather than mounting them on the wall or on an easel. This made the action painting technique even more impressive.

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color field painting

Color field painting is most recognizable in the work of American painters Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, where large flat areas of uninterrupted color were central to their paintings, rather than the gestural abstraction achieved through action painting. Although Color Field Painting and Action Painting are distinct styles, they both achieve the overall goal of Abstract Expressionism, which was to express deeply intense emotions.

Armenian-American painter Arshile Gorky brought his history as a surrealist painter to his abstract expressionist paintings. Gorky is widely considered a pioneer of abstract expressionism, especially color field painting. His paintings are enhanced by their use of raw canvas and a technique called staining. Coloring involves diluting the oil paint so that it drips and runs across the canvas, creating a loose, organic composition. by Helen Frankenthalermountains and seafrom 1952 is one of the most famous paintings and perhaps the first to use the stain technique.

Abstract and biomorphic forms were popular in color field painting and appear in the works of abstract expressionist artists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Hans Hofmann. Hans Hoffman immigrated to the United States in the 1930s and trained artists to work with abstraction and color.

Hoffman was influenced by the Cubist painters Robert Delaunay and Pablo Picasso, but it was the work of the French painter Henri Matisse that helped Hofmann develop Color Fields painting in theory and practice. Matisse's work spanned various modernist movements, including Fauvism, Post-Impressionism, and Expressionism, where many of his paintings contain abstract themes and large blocks of unbroken color. As a result, the Color Field movement became a subgenre of abstract expressionist painting.

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Influence of abstract expressionism on contemporary art

In the 1960s, other forms of abstract painting emerged as a reaction to the Abstract Expressionist movement. Geometric abstraction and hard-edge painting contrast with the organic, biomorphic forms that define the Abstract Expressionist style.

Minimalism was especially critical of art, like Abstract Expressionism. AlthoughMinimalismand abstract expressionism may look similar, minimalism rejected every last drop of pictorial technique and subjective meaning that was central to abstract expressionism. Minimalism was not made for self-expression, and many minimalist artists sought to convey the essence of an object or form. Pop art was also a reaction to Abstract Expressionism and encouraged New York City's upward trajectory as a cultural center and art center driven by Abstract Expressionism.

Although criticized at first, American Abstract Expressionism influenced many artists and subsequent art movements. American painter Joan Mitchell, for example, was one of many Abstract Expressionists who continued to paint in this style for years to come. While painting was originally the most popular medium in which to work, Abstract Expressionism was also a popular style for many collage artists and sculptors, pushing the boundaries of representation alongside their fellow painters.

Notable Abstract Expressionist Artists

  • Lee Krasner, 1908-1984, americano
  • Arshile Gorky, Armenian-American, 1904-1948
  • Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, americana
  • James Brooks, 1906-1992, estadounidense
  • Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956, americano
  • Willem de Kooning, 1904-1997, Dutch-American
  • Mark Rothko, 1903-1970, American
  • Ruth's Wife, 1926-2013, American
  • Franz Kline, 1910-1962, americano
  • Hans Hoffman, 1880-1996, germano-americano
  • Adolf Gottlieb, 1903-1974, americano
  • Clyfford Still, 1904-1980, americano
  • Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010, French-American
  • Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, americano
  • Helen Frankenthaler, 1928-2011, estadounidense
  • Alma Thomas, 1891-1978, americano
  • Mercedes Matter, 1913-2001, americano
  • Jean-Paul Riopelle, 1923-2002, Canadian


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[1] Hess, Barbara.abstract expressionism. Taschen, 2016.[2] HAPTMANN, William. "The Suppression of Art in the McCarthy Decade".The online edition of the international magazine Artforum, October 1, 1973, https://www.artforum.com/print/197308/the-suppression-of-art-in-the-mccarthy-decade-37985.[3] Rosenberg, Harold.The American Action Painters. poetesmagazines.org.uk. Accessed August 20, 2006.

Art Related Terms

  • Tempo
  • action painting
  • expressionism
  • tachismo
  • american modernism
  • Surrealism
  • Cubism
  • fauvism
  • Abstract art
  • poor art
  • color field painting
  • Minimalism
  • pop art
  • new york school

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What is Abstract Expressionism answer? ›

Abstract Expressionism is an artistic movement that emerged in the 1940s and 1950s that focuses on a shared curiosity in the utilization of abstraction as a means to express and/or elicit emotion through artistic works.

What is the movement of Abstract Expressionism? ›

Abstract expressionism is a post–World War II art movement in American painting, developed in New York City in the 1940s. It was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York at the center of the Western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris.

What is Abstract Expressionism summary? ›

Abstract expressionism is the term applied to new forms of abstract art developed by American painters such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning in the 1940s and 1950s. It is often characterised by gestural brush-strokes or mark-making, and the impression of spontaneity.

Who were the major artists of the Abstract Expressionism movement? ›

Abstract Expressionism, broad movement in American painting that began in the late 1940s and became a dominant trend in Western painting during the 1950s. The most prominent American Abstract Expressionist painters were Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Mark Rothko.

What are the 4 elements of abstract art? ›

abstract art, also called nonobjective art or nonrepresentational art, painting, sculpture, or graphic art in which the portrayal of things from the visible world plays little or no part. All art consists largely of elements that can be called abstract—elements of form, colour, line, tone, and texture.

What was the main focus of Abstract Expressionism? ›

For Abstract Expressionists, the authenticity or value of a work lay in its directness and immediacy of expression. A painting is meant to be a revelation of the artist's authentic identity. The gesture, the artist's “signature,” is evidence of the actual process of the work's creation.

What type of art is abstract expressionism? ›

Non-representational works of art that do not depict scenes or objects in the world or have discernable subject matter. The dominant artistic movement in the 1940s and 1950s, Abstract Expressionism was the first to place New York City at the forefront of international modern art.

What is an example of abstract expressionism art? ›

1. Jackson Pollock, Yellow Islands, 1952. Renowned New York-based painter Jackson Pollock's Yellow Islands, 1952, typifies the artist's pioneering style of 'Action Painting,' a strand of Abstract Expressionism which involved the entire artist's body in its making, tying it closely to performance art.

What are the main characteristics of abstract expressionism? ›

Characteristics and Style of Abstract Expressionism

Valuing freedom, spontaneity and personal expression, the movement naturally produced a variety of technical and aesthetic innovations. In general, however, Abstract Expressionism can be clustered around two major tendencies: action painting and color field painting.

What is Abstract Expressionism quizlet? ›

Define "abstract expressionism" Abstract because it emphasizes shapes, colors, and/or lines with no recognizable subject and expresses emotion and individual feeling rather than design and form.

How would you describe abstract art in simple terms? ›

Abstract art is art that does not represent an accurate depiction of visual reality, communicating instead through lines, shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks. Abstract artists use a variety of techniques to create their work, mixing traditional means with more experimental ideas.

What is Abstract Expressionism an example of it? ›

Iconic Artworks of Abstract Expressionism

The method consisted of flinging and dripping paint onto an unstretched canvas, laid on the floor of his studio. The style became known as drip painting. Drip painting allowed Pollock to work with improvisation, spontaneity, movement and feeling.

What are the example of Abstract Expressionism? ›

1. Jackson Pollock, Yellow Islands, 1952. Renowned New York-based painter Jackson Pollock's Yellow Islands, 1952, typifies the artist's pioneering style of 'Action Painting,' a strand of Abstract Expressionism which involved the entire artist's body in its making, tying it closely to performance art.


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