Abstract expressionism 1940 – 1960

Term applied to a movement in American painting that flourished in the 1940s and 1950s, sometimes referred to as the New York School or, very narrowly, as action planning, although it was first coined in relation to the work of Vasily Kandinsky in 1929 The works of the generation of artists active in New York from the 1940s and regarded as Abstract Expressionists resist definition as a cohesive style; they range from Barnett Newman’’s unbroken fields of colour to Willem de Kooning’s violent handling of the figure They were linked by a concern with varying degrees of abstraction used to convey strong emotional or expressive content Although the term primarily denotes a small nucleus of painters, Abstract Expressionist qualities can also be seen in the sculpture of David Smith, Ibram Lassaw and others, the photography of Aaron Siskind and the painting of Mark Tobey, as well as in the work of less renowned artists such as Bradley Walker Tomlin and Lee Krasner However, the majority of Abstract Expressionists rejected critical labels and shared, if anything, only a common sense of moral purpose and alienation from American society

Abstract expressionism is a post–World War II art movement in American painting, developed in New York in the 1940s It was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York City at the center of the western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris Although the term abstract expressionism was first applied to American art in 1946 by the art critic Robert Coates, it had been first used in Germany in 1919 in the magazine Der Sturm, regarding German Expressionism In the United States, Alfred Barr was the first to use this term in 1929 in relation to works by Wassily Kandinsky

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Technically, an important predecessor is surrealism, with its emphasis on spontaneous, automatic, or subconscious creation Jackson Pollock’s dripping paint onto a canvas laid on the floor is a technique that has its roots in the work of André Masson, Max Ernst, and David Alfaro Siqueiros The newer research tends to put the exile-surrealist Wolfgang Paalen in the position of the artist and theoretician who fostered the theory of the viewer-dependent possibility space through his paintings and his magazine DYN Paalen considered ideas of quantum mechanics, as well as idiosyncratic interpretations of the totemic vision and the spatial structure of native-Indian painting from British Columbia and prepared the ground for the new spatial vision of the young American abstracts His long essay Totem Art (1943) had considerable influence on such artists as Martha Graham, Isamu Noguchi, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman Around 1944 Barnett Newman tried to explain America’s newest art movement and included a list of “the men in the new movement” Paalen is mentioned twice; other artists mentioned are Gottlieb, Rothko, Pollock, Hofmann, Baziotes, Gorky and others Motherwell is mentioned with a question mark Another important early manifestation of what came to be abstract expressionism is the work of American Northwest artist Mark Tobey, especially his “white writing” canvases, which, though generally not large in scale, anticipate the “all-over” look of Pollock’s drip paintings

The movement’s name is derived from the combination of the emotional intensity and self-denial of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus, and Synthetic Cubism Additionally, it has an image of being rebellious, anarchic, highly idiosyncratic and, some feel, nihilistic In practice, the term is applied to any number of artists working (mostly) in New York who had quite different styles, and even to work that is neither especially abstract nor expressionist California Abstract Expressionist Jay Meuser, who typically painted in the non-objective style, wrote about his painting Mare Nostrum, “It is far better to capture the glorious spirit of the sea than to paint all of its tiny ripples” Pollock’s energetic “action paintings”, with their “busy” feel, are different, both technically and aesthetically, from the violent and grotesque Women series of Willem de Kooning’s figurative paintings and the rectangles of color in Mark Rothko’s Color Field paintings (which are not what would usually be called expressionist, and which Rothko denied were abstract) Yet all four artists are classified as abstract expressionists

Abstract expressionism has many stylistic similarities to the Russian artists of the early 20th century such as Wassily Kandinsky Although it is true that spontaneity or the impression of spontaneity characterized many of the abstract expressionists’ works, most of these paintings involved careful planning, especially since their large size demanded it With artists such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Emma Kunz, and later on Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Agnes Martin, abstract art clearly implied expression of ideas concerning the spiritual, the unconscious, and the mind