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.
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.
Why this style gained mainstream acceptance in the 1950s is a matter of debate. American social realism had been the mainstream in the 1930s. It had been influenced not only by the Great Depression, but also by the muralists of Mexico such as David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera. The political climate after World War II did not long tolerate the social protests of these painters. Abstract expressionism arose during World War II and began to be showcased during the early forties at galleries in New York such as The Art of This Century Gallery. The McCarthy era after World War II was a time of artistic censorship in the United States, but if the subject matter were totally abstract then it would be seen as apolitical, and therefore safe. Or if the art was political, the message was largely for the insiders.
While the movement is closely associated with painting, and painters such as Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Clyfford Still, Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and others, collagist Anne Ryan and certain sculptors in particular were also integral to abstract expressionism. David Smith, and his wife Dorothy Dehner, Herbert Ferber, Isamu Noguchi, Ibram Lassaw, Theodore Roszak, Phillip Pavia, Mary Callery, Richard Stankiewicz, Louise Bourgeois, and Louise Nevelson in particular were some of the sculptors considered as being important members of the movement. In addition, the artists David Hare, John Chamberlain, James Rosati, Mark di Suvero, and sculptors Richard Lippold, Raoul Hague, George Rickey, Reuben Nakian, and even Tony Smith, Seymour Lipton, Joseph Cornell, and several others were integral parts of the abstract expressionist movement. Many of the sculptors listed participated in the Ninth Street Show, a famous exhibition curated by Leo Castelli on East Ninth Street in New York City in 1951. Besides the painters and sculptors of the period the New York School of abstract expressionism also generated a number of supportive poets, including Frank O'Hara and photographers such as Aaron Siskind and Fred McDarrah, (whose book The Artist's World in Pictures documented the New York School during the 1950s), and filmmakers—notably Robert Frank—as well.
Although the abstract expressionist school spread quickly throughout the United States, the major centers of this style were New York City and the San Francisco Bay area of California.
At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.
In the 1940s there were not only few galleries (The Art of This Century, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Julien Levy Gallery and a few others) but also few critics who were willing to follow the work of the New York Vanguard. There were also a few artists with a literary background, among them Robert Motherwell and Barnett Newman, who functioned as critics as well.
While New York and the world were yet unfamiliar with the New York avant-garde by the late 1940s, most of the artists who have become household names today had their well-established patron critics: Clement Greenberg advocated Jackson Pollock and the color field painters like Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb and Hans Hofmann; Harold Rosenberg seemed to prefer the action painters such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, as well as the seminal paintings of Arshile Gorky; Thomas B. Hess, the managing editor of ARTnews, championed Willem de Kooning.
The new critics elevated their protégés by casting other artists as "followers" or ignoring those who did not serve their promotional goal.
Barnett Newman, a late member of the Uptown Group, wrote catalogue forewords and reviews, and by the late 1940s became an exhibiting artist at Betty Parsons Gallery. His first solo show was in 1948. Soon after his first exhibition, Barnett Newman remarked in one of the Artists' Sessions at Studio 35: "We are in the process of making the world, to a certain extent, in our own image." Utilizing his writing skills, Newman fought every step of the way to reinforce his newly established image as an artist and to promote his work. An example is his letter on April 9, 1955, "Letter to Sidney Janis: — it is true that Rothko talks the fighter. He fights, however, to submit to the philistine world. My struggle against bourgeois society has involved the total rejection of it."
Strangely the person thought to have had most to do with the promotion of this style was a New York Trotskyist; Clement Greenberg. As long-time art critic for the Partisan Review and The Nation, he became an early and literate proponent of abstract expressionism. The well-heeled artist Robert Motherwell joined Greenberg in promoting a style that fit the political climate and the intellectual rebelliousness of the era.
Clement Greenberg proclaimed abstract expressionism and Jackson Pollock in particular as the epitome of aesthetic value. He supported Pollock's work on formalistic grounds as simply the best painting of its day and the culmination of an art tradition going back via Cubism and Cézanne to Monet, in which painting became ever-'purer' and more concentrated in what was 'essential' to it, the making of marks on a flat surface.
Jackson Pollock's work has always polarised critics. Harold Rosenberg spoke of the transformation of painting into an existential drama in Pollock's work, in which "what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event". "The big moment came when it was decided to paint 'just to paint'. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation from value—political, aesthetic, moral."
One of the most vocal critics of abstract expressionism at the time was The New York Times art critic John Canaday. Meyer Schapiro and Leo Steinberg along with Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg were important art historians of the post-war era who voiced support for abstract expressionism. During the early-to-mid-sixties younger art critics Michael Fried, Rosalind Krauss, and Robert Hughes added considerable insights into the critical dialectic that continues to grow around abstract expressionism.
During the period leading up to and during World War II, modernist artists, writers, and poets, as well as important collectors and dealers, fled Europe and the onslaught of the Nazis for safe haven in the United States. Many of those who didn't flee perished. Among the artists and collectors who arrived in New York during the war (some with help from Varian Fry) were Hans Namuth, Yves Tanguy, Kay Sage, Max Ernst, Jimmy Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, Leo Castelli, Marcel Duchamp, André Masson, Roberto Matta, André Breton, Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz, Fernand Léger, and Piet Mondrian. A few artists, notably Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Pierre Bonnard remained in France and survived.
The post-war period left the capitals of Europe in upheaval, with an urgency to economically and physically rebuild and to politically regroup. In Paris, formerly the center of European culture and capital of the art world, the climate for art was a disaster, and New York replaced Paris as the new center of the art world. In Europe after the war there was the continuation of Surrealism, Cubism, Dada, and the works of Matisse. Also in Europe, Art brut, and Lyrical Abstraction or Tachisme (the European equivalent to abstract expressionism) took hold of the newest generation. Serge Poliakoff, Nicolas de Staël, Georges Mathieu, Vieira da Silva, Jean Dubuffet, Yves Klein, Pierre Soulages and Jean Messagier, among others are considered important figures in post-war European painting. In the United States, a new generation of American artists began to emerge and to dominate the world stage, and they were called Abstract Expressionists.
The 1940s in New York City heralded the triumph of American abstract expressionism, a modernist movement that combined lessons learned from Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Surrealism, Joan Miró, Cubism, Fauvism, and early Modernism via great teachers in America such as Hans Hofmann from Germany and John D. Graham from Ukraine. Graham's influence on American art during the early 1940s was particularly visible in the work of Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Richard Pousette-Dart among others. Gorky's contributions to American and world art are difficult to overestimate. His work as lyrical abstraction was a "new language. He "lit the way for two generations of American artists". The painterly spontaneity of mature works such as "The Liver is the Cock's Comb", "The Betrothal II", and "One Year the Milkweed" immediately prefigured Abstract expressionism, and leaders in the New York School have acknowledged Gorky's considerable influence. The early work of Hyman Bloom was also influential. American artists also benefited from the presence of Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Max Ernst, and the André Breton group, Pierre Matisse's gallery, and Peggy Guggenheim's gallery The Art of This Century, as well as other factors. Hans Hofmann in particular as teacher, mentor, and artist was both important and influential to the development and success of abstract expressionism in the United States. Among Hofmann's protégés was Clement Greenberg, who became an enormously influential voice for American painting, and among his students was Lee Krasner, who introduced her teacher, Hofmann, to her husband, Jackson Pollock.
During the late 1940s, Jackson Pollock's radical approach to painting revolutionized the potential for all Contemporary art that followed him. To some extent, Pollock realized that the journey toward making a work of art was as important as the work of art itself. Like Pablo Picasso's innovative reinventions of painting and sculpture near the turn of the century via Cubism and constructed sculpture, with influences as disparate as Navaho sand paintings, surrealism, Jungian analysis, and Mexican mural art, Pollock redefined what it was to produce art. His move away from easel painting and conventionality was a liberating signal to the artists of his era and to all that came after. Artists realized that Jackson Pollock's process—the placing of unstretched raw canvas on the floor where it could be attacked from all four sides using artist materials and industrial materials; linear skeins of paint dripped and thrown; drawing, staining, brushing; imagery and non-imagery—essentially took art-making beyond any prior boundary. Abstract expressionism in general expanded and developed the definitions and possibilities that artists had available for the creation of new works of art.
The other abstract expressionists followed Pollock's breakthrough with new breakthroughs of their own. In a sense the innovations of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, Hans Hofmann, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Pousette-Dart, Robert Motherwell, Peter Voulkos, and others opened the floodgates to the diversity and scope of all the art that followed them. The new art movements of the 1960s essentially followed the lead of abstract expressionism and in particular the innovations of Pollock, De Kooning, Rothko, Hofmann, Reinhardt, and Newman. The radical Anti-Formalist movements of the 1960s and 1970s including Fluxus, Neo-Dada, Conceptual art, and the feminist art movement can be traced to the innovations of abstract expressionism. Rereadings into abstract art, done by art historians such as Linda Nochlin, Griselda Pollock and Catherine de Zegher critically shows, however, that pioneer women artists who have produced major innovations in modern art had been ignored by the official accounts of its history, but finally began to achieve long overdue recognition in the wake of the abstract expressionist movement of the 1940s and 1950s. Abstract expressionism emerged as a major art movement in New York City during the 1950s and thereafter several leading art galleries began to include the abstract expressionists in exhibitions and as regulars in their rosters. Some of those prominent 'uptown' galleries included: the Charles Egan Gallery, the Sidney Janis Gallery, the Betty Parsons Gallery, the Kootz Gallery, the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, the Stable Gallery, the Leo Castelli Gallery as well as others; and several downtown galleries known at the time as the Tenth Street galleries exhibited many emerging younger artists working in the abstract expressionist vein.
Action painting was a style widespread from the 1940s until the early 1960s, and is closely associated with abstract expressionism (some critics have used the terms action painting and abstract expressionism interchangeably). A comparison is often drawn between the American action painting and the French tachisme.
The term was coined by the American critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952 and signaled a major shift in the aesthetic perspective of New York School painters and critics. According to Rosenberg the canvas was "an arena in which to act". While abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning had long been outspoken in their view of a painting as an arena within which to come to terms with the act of creation, earlier critics sympathetic to their cause, like Clement Greenberg, focused on their works' "objectness." To Greenberg, it was the physicality of the paintings' clotted and oil-caked surfaces that was the key to understanding them as documents of the artists' existential struggle.
Rosenberg's critique shifted the emphasis from the object to the struggle itself, with the finished painting being only the physical manifestation, a kind of residue, of the actual work of art, which was in the act or process of the painting's creation. This spontaneous activity was the "action" of the painter, through arm and wrist movement, painterly gestures, brushstrokes, thrown paint, splashed, stained, scumbled and dripped. The painter would sometimes let the paint drip onto the canvas, while rhythmically dancing, or even standing in the canvas, sometimes letting the paint fall according to the subconscious mind, thus letting the unconscious part of the psyche assert and express itself. All this, however, is difficult to explain or interpret because it is a supposed unconscious manifestation of the act of pure creation.
In practice, the term abstract expressionism is applied to any number of artists working (mostly) in New York who had quite different styles, and even applied to work which is not especially abstract nor expressionist. Pollock's energetic action paintings, with their "busy" feel, are different both technically and aesthetically, to the violent and grotesque Women series of Willem de Kooning. Woman V is one of a series of six paintings made by de Kooning between 1950 and 1953 that depict a three-quarter-length female figure. He began the first of these paintings, Woman I, collection: The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, in June 1950, repeatedly changing and painting out the image until January or February 1952, when the painting was abandoned unfinished. The art historian Meyer Schapiro saw the painting in de Kooning's studio soon afterwards and encouraged the artist to persist. De Kooning's response was to begin three other paintings on the same theme; Woman II, collection: The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, Woman III, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Woman IV, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. During the summer of 1952, spent at East Hampton, de Kooning further explored the theme through drawings and pastels. He may have finished work on Woman I by the end of June, or possibly as late as November 1952, and probably the other three women pictures were concluded at much the same time. The Woman series are decidedly figurative paintings.
Another important artist is Franz Kline. As with Jackson Pollock and other abstract expressionists, Kline was labelled an "action painter because of his seemingly spontaneous and intense style, focusing less, or not at all, on figures or imagery, but on the actual brush strokes and use of canvas; as demonstrated by his painting Number 2 (1954).
Automatic writing was an important vehicle for action painters Franz Kline (in his black and white paintings), Jackson Pollock, Mark Tobey and Cy Twombly, who used gesture, surface, and line to create calligraphic, linear symbols and skeins that resemble language, and resonate as powerful manifestations from the Collective unconscious.Robert Motherwell in his Elegy to the Spanish Republic series also painted powerful black and white paintings using gesture, surface and symbol evoking powerful emotional charges.
Meanwhile, other action painters, notably Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Norman Bluhm, Joan Mitchell, and James Brooks, used imagery via either abstract landscape or as expressionistic visions of the figure to articulate their highly personal and powerful evocations. James Brooks' paintings were particularly poetic and highly prescient in relationship to Lyrical Abstraction that became prominent in the late 1960s and the 1970s.
Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb and the serenely shimmering blocks of color in Mark Rothko's work (which is not what would usually be called expressionist and which Rothko denied was abstract), are classified as abstract expressionists, albeit from what Clement Greenberg termed the Color field direction of abstract expressionism. Both Hans Hofmann and Robert Motherwell can be comfortably described as practitioners of action painting and Color field painting. In the 1940s Richard Pousette-Dart's tightly constructed imagery often depended upon themes of mythology and mysticism; as did the paintings of Adolph Gottlieb, and Jackson Pollock in that decade as well.
Color Field painting initially referred to a particular type of abstract expressionism, especially the work of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt and several series of paintings by Joan Miró. Art critic Clement Greenberg perceived Color Field painting as related to but different from Action painting. The Color Field painters sought to rid their art of superfluous rhetoric. Artists like Robert Motherwell, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Francis, Mark Tobey, and especially Ad Reinhardt and Barnett Newman, whose masterpiece Vir heroicus sublimis is in the collection of MoMA, used greatly reduced references to nature, and they painted with a highly articulated and psychological use of color. In general these artists eliminated recognizable imagery, in the case of Rothko and Gottlieb sometimes using symbol and sign as replacement of imagery. Certain artists quoted references to past or present art, but in general color field painting presents abstraction as an end in itself. In pursuing this direction of modern art, artists wanted to present each painting as one unified, cohesive, monolithic image.
In distinction to the emotional energy and gestural surface marks of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, the Color Field painters initially appeared to be cool and austere, effacing the individual mark in favor of large, flat areas of color, which these artists considered to be the essential nature of visual abstraction, along with the actual shape of the canvas, which later in the 1960s Frank Stella in particular achieved in unusual ways with combinations of curved and straight edges. However Color Field painting has proven to be both sensual and deeply expressive albeit in a different way from gestural abstract expressionism.
Although abstract expressionism spread quickly throughout the United States, the major centers of this style were New York City and California, especially in the New York School, and the San Francisco Bay area. Abstract expressionist paintings share certain characteristics, including the use of large canvases, an "all-over" approach, in which the whole canvas is treated with equal importance (as opposed to the center being of more interest than the edges). The canvas as the arena became a credo of Action painting, while the integrity of the picture plane became a credo of the Color field painters. Younger artists began exhibiting their abstract expressionist related paintings during the 1950s as well including Alfred Leslie, Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Cy Twombly, Milton Resnick, Michael Goldberg, Norman Bluhm, Grace Hartigan, Friedel Dzubas, and Robert Goodnough among others.
Although Pollock is closely associated with Action Painting because of his style, technique, and his painterly touch and his physical application of paint, art critics have likened Pollock to both Action painting and color field painting. Another critical view advanced by Clement Greenberg connects Pollock's allover canvasses to the large-scale Water Lilies of Claude Monet done during the 1920s. Greenberg, art critic Michael Fried, and others have observed that the overall feeling in Pollock's most famous works – his drip paintings – read as vast fields of built-up linear elements often reading as vast complexes of similar valued paint skeins that read as all over fields of color and drawing, and are related to the mural-sized late Monets that are constructed of many passages of close valued brushed and scumbled marks that also read as close valued fields of color and drawing that Monet used in building his picture surfaces. Pollock's use of all-over composition lend a philosophical and a physical connection to the way the color field painters like Newman, Rothko and Still construct their unbroken and in Still's case broken surfaces. In several paintings that Pollock painted after his classic drip painting period of 1947–1950, he used the technique of staining fluid oil paint and house paint into raw canvas. During 1951 he produced a series of semi-figurative black stain paintings, and in 1952 he produced stain paintings using color. In his November 1952 exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York City Pollock showed Number 12, 1952, a large, masterful stain painting that resembles a brightly colored stained landscape (with an overlay of broadly dripped dark paint); the painting was acquired from the exhibition by Nelson Rockefeller for his personal collection. In 1960 the painting was severely damaged by fire in the Governors Mansion in Albany that also severely damaged an Arshile Gorky painting and several other works in the Rockefeller collection. However, by 1999 it had been restored and was installed in Albany Mall.
While Arshile Gorky is considered to be one of the founding fathers of abstract expressionism and a surrealist, he was also one of the first painters of the New York School who used the technique of staining. Gorky created broad fields of vivid, open, unbroken color that he used in many of his paintings as grounds. In Gorky's most effective and accomplished paintings between the years 1941–1948, he consistently used intense stained fields of color, often letting the paint run and drip, under and around his familiar lexicon of organic and biomorphic shapes and delicate lines. Another abstract expressionist whose works in the 1940s call to mind the stain paintings of the 1960s and the 1970s is James Brooks. Brooks regularly used stain as a technique in his paintings from the late 1940s. Brooks began diluting his oil paint in order to have fluid colors with which to pour and drip and stain into the mostly raw canvas that he used. These works often combined calligraphy and abstract shapes. During the final three decades of his career, Sam Francis' style of large-scale bright abstract expressionism was closely associated with Color field painting. His paintings straddled both camps within the abstract expressionist rubric, Action painting and Color Field painting.
Having seen Jackson Pollock's 1951 paintings of thinned black oil paint stained into raw canvas, Helen Frankenthaler began to produce stain paintings in varied oil colors on raw canvas in 1952. Her most famous painting from that period is Mountains and Sea. She is one of the originators of the Color Field movement that emerged in the late 1950s. Frankenthaler also studied with Hans Hofmann.
Hofmann's paintings are a symphony of color as seen in The Gate, 1959–1960. Hofmann was renowned not only as an artist but also as a teacher of art, both in his native Germany and later in the U.S. Hans Hofmann, who came to the United States from Germany in the early 1930s, brought with him the legacy of Modernism. Hofmann was a young artist working in Paris who painted there before World War I. Hofmann worked in Paris with Robert Delaunay, and he knew firsthand the innovative work of both Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Matisse's work had an enormous influence on him, and on his understanding of the expressive language of color and the potentiality of abstraction. Hofmann was one of the first theorists of color field painting, and his theories were influential to artists and to critics, particularly to Clement Greenberg, as well as to others during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1953 Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland were both profoundly influenced by Helen Frankenthaler's stain paintings after visiting her studio in New York City. Returning to Washington, DC., they began to produce the major works that created the color field movement in the late 1950s.
Clement Greenberg included the work of both Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland in a show that he did at the Kootz Gallery in the early 1950s. Clem was the first to see their potential. He invited them up to New York in 1953, I think it was, to Helen's studio to see a painting that she had just done called Mountains and Sea, a very, very beautiful painting, which was in a sense, out of Pollock and out of Gorky. It also was one of the first stain pictures, one of the first large field pictures in which the stain technique was used, perhaps the first one. Louis and Noland saw the picture unrolled on the floor of her studio and went back to Washington, DC., and worked together for a while, working at the implications of this kind of painting.
In abstract painting during the 1950s and 1960s, several new directions, like the Hard-edge painting exemplified by John McLaughlin, emerged. Meanwhile, as a reaction against the subjectivism of abstract expressionism, other forms of Geometric abstraction began to appear in artist studios and in radical avant-garde circles. Clement Greenberg became the voice of Post-painterly abstraction; by curating an influential exhibition of new painting that toured important art museums throughout the United States in 1964. Color field painting, Hard-edge painting and Lyrical Abstraction emerged as radical new directions.
Since the mid-1970s it has been argued by revisionist historians that the style attracted the attention, in the early 1950s, of the CIA, who saw it as representative of the US as a haven of free thought and free markets, as well as a challenge to both the socialist realist styles prevalent in communist nations and the dominance of the European art markets. The book by Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War—The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, (published in the UK as Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War) details how the CIA financed and organized the promotion of American abstract expressionists as part of cultural imperialism via the Congress for Cultural Freedom from 1950 to 1967. Notably Robert Motherwell's series Elegy to the Spanish Republic addressed some of those political issues. Tom Braden, founding chief of the CIA's International Organizations Division (IOD) and ex-executive secretary of the Museum of Modern Art said in an interview, "I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War."
Against this revisionist tradition, an essay by Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic of The New York Times, called Revisiting the Revisionists: The Modern, Its Critics and the Cold War, argues that much of this information (as well as the revisionists' interpretation of it) concerning what was happening on the American art scene during the 1940s and 50s is flatly false, or at best (contrary to the revisionists' avowed historiographic principles) decontextualized. Other books on the subject include Art in the Cold War by Christine Lindey, which also describes the art of the Soviet Union at the same time; and Pollock and After edited by Francis Frascina, which reprinted the Kimmelman article.
Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923–2002), a member of the Montreal-based surrealist-inspired group Les Automatistes, helped introduce a related style of abstract impressionism to the Parisian art world from 1949. Michel Tapié's groundbreaking book, Un Art Autre (1952), was also enormously influential in this regard. Tapié was also a curator and exhibition organizer who promoted the works of Pollock and Hans Hofmann in Europe. By the 1960s, the movement's initial affect had been assimilated, yet its methods and proponents remained highly influential in art, affecting profoundly the work of many artists who followed. Abstract expressionism preceded Tachisme, Color Field painting, Lyrical Abstraction, Fluxus, Pop Art, Minimalism, Postminimalism, Neo-expressionism, and the other movements of the sixties and seventies and it influenced all those later movements that evolved. Movements which were direct responses to, and rebellions against abstract expressionism began with Hard-edge painting (Frank Stella, Robert Indiana and others) and Pop artists, notably Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein who achieved prominence in the US, accompanied by Richard Hamilton in Britain. Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in the US formed a bridge between abstract expressionism and Pop art. Minimalism was exemplified by artists such as Donald Judd, Robert Mangold and Agnes Martin.
However, many painters, such as Jules Olitski, Joan Mitchell and Antoni Tàpies continued to work in the abstract expressionist style for many years, extending and expanding its visual and philosophical implications, as many abstract artists continue to do today, in styles described as Lyrical Abstraction, Neo-expressionist and others.
In the years after World War II, a group of New York artists started one of the first true schools of artists in America, bringing about a new era in American artwork: abstract expressionism. This led to the American art boom that brought about styles such as Pop Art. This also helped to make New York into a cultural and artistic hub.
Abstract expressionist value expression over perfection, vitality over finish, fluctuation over repose, the unknown over the known, the veiled over the clear, the individual over society and the inner over the outer.— William C. Seitz, American artist and Art historian
[Thomas] Hess's favorite painter, Willem de Kooning...made it very clear to me in a conversation in 1954 that he and Jackson Pollock considered Bloom, whom they had discovered in Americans 1942, 'the first Abstract Expressionist artist in America.'"
20th-century Western painting begins with the heritage of late-19th-century painters Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and others who were essential for the development of modern art. At the beginning of the 20th century, Henri Matisse and several other young artists including the pre-cubist Georges Braque, André Derain, Raoul Dufy and Maurice de Vlaminck revolutionized the Paris art world with "wild", multi-colored, expressive landscapes and figure paintings that the critics called Fauvism. Matisse's second version of The Dance signified a key point in his career and in the development of modern painting. It reflected Matisse's incipient fascination with primitive art: the intense warm color of the figures against the cool blue-green background and the rhythmical succession of the dancing nudes convey the feelings of emotional liberation and hedonism.
Initially influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, and other late-19th-century innovators, Pablo Picasso made his first cubist paintings based on Cézanne's idea that all depiction of nature can be reduced to three solids: cube, sphere and cone. With the painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907; see gallery) Picasso created a new and radical picture depicting a raw and primitive brothel scene with five prostitutes, violently painted women, reminiscent of African tribal masks and his own new proto-Cubist inventions. Analytic cubism, exemplified by Violin and Candlestick, Paris, was jointly developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque from about 1908 through 1912. Analytic cubism was followed by Synthetic cubism, characterized by the introduction of different textures, surfaces, collage elements, papier collé and a large variety of merged subject matter.Crystal Cubism was a distilled form of Cubism consistent with a shift between 1915 and 1916 towards a strong emphasis on flat surface activity and large overlapping geometric planes, practised by Braque, Picasso, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris, Diego Rivera, Henri Laurens, Jacques Lipchitz, Alexander Archipenko, Fernand Léger and several other artists into the 1920s.During the years between 1910 and the end of World War I and after the heyday of cubism, several movements emerged in Paris. Giorgio de Chirico moved to Paris in July 1911, where he joined his brother Andrea (the poet and painter known as Alberto Savinio). Through his brother he met Pierre Laprade, a member of the jury at the Salon d'Automne, where he exhibited three of his dreamlike works: Enigma of the Oracle, Enigma of an Afternoon and Self-Portrait. During 1913 he exhibited his work at the Salon des Indépendants and Salon d’Automne, where his work was noticed by Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire, and others. His compelling and mysterious paintings are considered instrumental to the early beginnings of Surrealism. Song of Love (1914) is one of the most famous works by de Chirico and is an early example of the surrealist style, though it was painted ten years before the movement was "founded" by André Breton in 1924.In the first two decades of the 20th century, as Cubism evolved, several other important movements emerged; Futurism (Balla), Abstract art (Kandinsky), Der Blaue Reiter (Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc), Bauhaus (Kandinsky and Klee), Orphism, (Delaunay and Kupka), Synchromism (Russell and Macdonald-Wright), De Stijl (van Doesburg and Mondrian), Suprematism (Malevich), Constructivism (Tatlin), Dadaism (Duchamp, Picabia and Arp), and Surrealism (de Chirico, André Breton, Miró, Magritte, Dalí and Ernst). Modern painting influenced all the visual arts, from Modernist architecture and design, to avant-garde film, theatre and modern dance and became an experimental laboratory for the expression of visual experience, from photography and concrete poetry to advertising art and fashion. Van Gogh's painting exerted great influence upon 20th-century Expressionism, as can be seen in the work of the Fauves, Die Brücke (a group led by German painter Ernst Kirchner), and the Expressionism of Edvard Munch, Egon Schiele, Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine and others.Action painting
Action painting, sometimes called "gestural abstraction", is a style of painting in which paint is spontaneously dribbled, splashed or smeared onto the canvas, rather than being carefully applied. The resulting work often emphasizes the physical act of painting itself as an essential aspect of the finished work or concern of its artist.American Figurative Expressionism
American Figurative Expressionism is a 20th-century visual art style or movement that first took hold in Boston, and later spread throughout the United States. Critics dating back to the origins of Expressionism have often found it hard to define. One description, however, classifies it as a Humanist philosophy, since it's human-centered and rationalist. Its formal approach to the handling of paint and space is often considered a defining feature, too, as is its radical, rather than reactionary, commitment to the figure.
The term "figurative expressionism" arose as a counter-distinction to Abstract Expressionism. Like German Expressionism, the American movement addresses issues at the heart of the expressionist sensibility, such as personal and group identity in the modern world, the role of the artist as a witness to issues such as violence and corruption, and the nature of the creative process and its implications. These factors speak to the movement's strong association with the emotional expression of the artist's interior vision, with the kinds of emphatic brushstrokes and bold color found in paintings like Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night and Edvard Munch's The Scream that has influenced generations of practitioners. They also speak to the rejection of the outward-facing "realism" of Impressionism, and tacitly suggest the influence of Symbolism on the movement, which sees meaning in line, form, shape and color.The Boston origins of the American movement date to a "wave of German and European-Jewish immigrants" in the 1930s and their "affinities to the contemporary German strain of figurative painting ... in artists like Otto Dix (1891-1969), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980), and Emil Nolde (1867-1956), both in style and in subject matter," art historian Adam Zucker writes. Calling Humanism the defining ideal of the American movement, Zucker says it was "inspired largely by political and/or social issues and conflicts," much as many of the practitioners of "mid-20th century art, including Dada, Surrealism, Social Realism, took stances against war or wars, both on and off the canvas.Indeed, many Boston artists had links to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston or the Boris Mirski Gallery where painters like Karl Zerbe (1903-1972), Hyman Bloom (1913-2009), Jack Levine (1915-2010), David Aronson (b. 1923) studied, taught, exhibited and ultimately grew into activists after "openly challenging a statement issued by the Boston Institute of Modern Art under the heading ‘Modern Art’ and the American Public." Concerned that Boston's Brahmin museums would never support them, they founded the New England Chapter of Artists Equity to fight for their rights and organized the Boston Arts Festival to make art more democratic.Their ongoing work and modernist dialogues envisioned art "as a narrative that unfolded through the incorporation of figures and landscapes into allegories drawn ... from traditional or imagined subject matter, fueled by the artists’ experiences and spirituality. Their themes tended toward "scenes and images in which they expressed profound emotions, horrors and fantasies in a largely allegorical manner. Spiritual and fantastical scenes were thus common, and depictions of sublime religious displays, political satire, and treatments of the theme of human mortality ... all contributed to the progression of figurative painting and to the evolving definition of modern humanist art."Blue Poles
Blue Poles, also known as Number 11, 1952 is an abstract expressionist painting and one of the most famous works by American artist Jackson Pollock. It was purchased amid controversy by the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 and today remains one of the gallery's major paintings.Brushstrokes
Brushstrokes is a 1965 oil and Magna on canvas pop art painting by Roy Lichtenstein. It is the first element of the Brushstrokes series of artworks that includes several paintings and sculptures. As with all of his Brushstrokes works, it is in part a satirical response to the gestural painting of Abstract Expressionism.Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg (), occasionally writing under the pseudonym K. Hardesh (January 16, 1909 – May 7, 1994), was an American essayist known mainly as an influential visual art critic closely associated with American Modern art of the mid-20th century and a Formalist aesthetician. In particular, he is best remembered for his promotion of the abstract expressionist movement and was among the first published critics to praise the work of painter Jackson Pollock.Color field
Color field painting is a style of abstract painting that emerged in New York City during the 1940s and 1950s. It was inspired by European modernism and closely related to abstract expressionism, while many of its notable early proponents were among the pioneering abstract expressionists. Color field is characterized primarily by large fields of flat, solid color spread across or stained into the canvas creating areas of unbroken surface and a flat picture plane. The movement places less emphasis on gesture, brushstrokes and action in favour of an overall consistency of form and process. In color field painting "color is freed from objective context and becomes the subject in itself."During the late 1950s and 1960s, color field painters emerged in Great Britain, Canada, Washington, D.C. and the West Coast of the United States using formats of stripes, targets, simple geometric patterns and references to landscape imagery and to nature.History of painting
The history of painting reaches back in time to artifacts from pre-historic humans, and spans all cultures. It represents a continuous, though periodically disrupted, tradition from Antiquity. Across cultures, and spanning continents and millennia, the history of painting is an ongoing river of creativity, that continues into the 21st century. Until the early 20th century it relied primarily on representational, religious and classical motifs, after which time more purely abstract and conceptual approaches gained favor.
Developments in Eastern painting historically parallel those in Western painting, in general, a few centuries earlier. African art, Jewish art, Islamic art, Indian art, Chinese art, and Japanese art each had significant influence on Western art, and vice versa.Initially serving utilitarian purpose, followed by imperial, private, civic, and religious patronage, Eastern and Western painting later found audiences in the aristocracy and the middle class. From the Modern era, the Middle Ages through the Renaissance painters worked for the church and a wealthy aristocracy. Beginning with the Baroque era artists received private commissions from a more educated and prosperous middle class. Finally in the West the idea of "art for art's sake" began to find expression in the work of the Romantic painters like Francisco de Goya, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner. The 19th century saw the rise of the commercial art gallery, which provided patronage in the 20th century.Lyrical abstraction
Lyrical abstraction is either of two related but distinct trends in Post-war Modernist painting:
European Abstraction Lyrique born in Paris, the French art critic Jean José Marchand being credited with coining its name in 1947, considered as a component of (Tachisme) when the name of this movement was coined in 1951 by Pierre Guéguen and Charles Estienne the author of L'Art à Paris 1945–1966, and American Lyrical Abstraction a movement described by Larry Aldrich (the founder of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield Connecticut) in 1969.A third definition is the usage as a descriptive term. It is a descriptive term characterizing a type of abstract painting related to Abstract Expressionism; in use since the 1940s. Many well known abstract expressionist painters like Arshile Gorky seen in context have been characterized as doing a type of painting described as lyrical abstraction.Neo-Dada
Neo-Dada was a movement with audio, visual and literary manifestations that had similarities in method or intent with earlier Dada artwork. It sought to close the gap between art and daily life, and was a combination of playfulness, iconoclasm, and appropriation. In the United States the term was popularized by Barbara Rose in the 1960s and refers primarily, although not exclusively, to work created in that and the preceding decade. There was also an international dimension to the movement, particularly in Japan and in Europe, serving as the foundation of Fluxus, Pop Art and Nouveau réalisme.Neo-Dada was exemplified by its use of modern materials, popular imagery, and absurdist contrast. It was a reaction to the personal emotionalism of Abstract Expressionism and, taking a lead from the practice of Marcel Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters, denied traditional concepts of aesthetics.Neo-expressionism
Neo-expressionism is a style of late modernist or early-postmodern painting and sculpture that emerged in the late 1970s. Neo-expressionists were sometimes called Transavantgarde, Junge Wilde or Neue Wilden ('The new wild ones'; 'New Fauves' would better meet the meaning of the term). It is characterized by intense subjectivity and rough handling of materials.Neo-expressionism developed as a reaction against conceptual art and minimal art of the 1970s. Neo-expressionists returned to portraying recognizable objects, such as the human body (although sometimes in an abstract manner), in a rough and violently emotional way, often using vivid colors. It was overtly inspired by German Expressionist painters, such as Emil Nolde, Max Beckmann, George Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, James Ensor and Edvard Munch. It is also related to American Lyrical Abstraction painting of the 1960s and 1970s, The Hairy Who movement in Chicago, the Bay Area Figurative School of the 1950s and 1960s, the continuation of Abstract Expressionism, New Image Painting and precedents in Pop Painting.New York School (art)
The New York School was an informal group of American poets, painters, dancers, and musicians active in the 1950s and 1960s in New York City. They often drew inspiration from surrealism and the contemporary avant-garde art movements, in particular action painting, abstract expressionism, jazz, improvisational theater, experimental music, and the interaction of friends in the New York City art world's vanguard circle.No. 5, 1948
No. 5, 1948 is a painting by Jackson Pollock, an American painter known for his contributions to the abstract expressionist movement. It was sold in May 2006 for $140 million, a new mark for highest ever price for a painting, not surpassed until April 2011.Number 17A
Number 17A is a painting by Jackson Pollock, an American painter known for his contributions to the abstract expressionist movement.Painters Eleven
Painters Eleven (variant names Painters 11 or P11) was a collective of abstract artists active in Canada between 1953 and 1960.Post-painterly abstraction
Post-painterly abstraction is a term created by art critic Clement Greenberg as the title for an exhibit he curated for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1964, which subsequently travelled to the Walker Art Center and the Art Gallery of Toronto.
Greenberg had perceived that there was a new movement in painting that derived from the abstract expressionism of the 1940s and 1950s but "favored openness or clarity" as opposed to the dense painterly surfaces of that painting style. The 31 artists in the exhibition included Walter Darby Bannard, Jack Bush, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Friedel Dzubas, Paul Feeley, John Ferren, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam, Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, Nicholas Krushenick, Alexander Liberman, Morris Louis, Arthur Fortescue McKay, Howard Mehring, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Ray Parker, David Simpson, Albert Stadler, Frank Stella, Mason Wells, Emerson Woelffer, and a number of other American and Canadian artists who were becoming well known in the 1960s.Among the prior generation of contemporary artists, Barnett Newman has been singled out as one who anticipated "some of the characteristics of post-painterly abstraction."As painting continued to move in different directions, initially away from abstract expressionism, powered by the spirit of innovation of the time, the term "post-painterly abstraction", which had obtained some currency in the 1960s, was gradually supplanted by minimalism, hard-edge painting, lyrical abstraction, and color field painting.Sidney Janis
Sidney Janis (July 8, 1896 – November 23, 1989) was a wealthy clothing manufacturer and art collector who opened an art gallery in New York in 1948. His gallery quickly gained prominence, for he not only exhibited the work of most of the emerging leaders of Abstract Expressionism, but also that of such important European artists as Pierre Bonnard, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, and Piet Mondrian. As the critic Clement Greenberg explained in a 1958 tribute to the dealer, Janis' exhibition practices had helped to establish the legitimacy of the Americans, for his policy "not only implied, it declared, that Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Phillip Guston, Mark Rothko, and Robert Motherwell were to be judged by the same standards as Matisse and Picasso, without condescension, without making allowances." Greenberg observed that in the late 1940s "the real issue was whether ambitious artists could live in this country by what they did ambitiously. Sidney Janis helped as much as anyone to see that it was decided affirmatively."Tachisme
Tachisme (alternative spelling: Tachism, derived from the French word tache, stain) is a French style of abstract painting popular in the 1940s and 1950s. The term is said to have been first used with regards to the movement in 1951. It is often considered to be the European equivalent to abstract expressionism, although there are stylistic differences (American abstract expressionism tended to be more "aggressively raw" than tachisme). It was part of a larger postwar movement known as Art Informel (or Informel), which abandoned geometric abstraction in favour of a more intuitive form of expression, similar to action painting. Another name for Tachism is Abstraction lyrique (related to American Lyrical Abstraction). COBRA is also related to Tachisme, as is Japan's Gutai group.
After World War II the term School of Paris often referred to Tachisme, the European equivalent of American abstract expressionism. Important proponents were Jean-Paul Riopelle, Wols, Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Soulages, Nicolas de Staël, Hans Hartung, Gérard Schneider, Serge Poliakoff, Georges Mathieu and Jean Messagier, among several others. (See list of artists below.)
According to Chilvers, the term tachisme "was first used in this sense in about 1951 (the French critics Charles Estienne and Pierre Guéguen have each been credited with coining it) and it was given wide currency by [French critic and painter] Michel Tapié in his book Un Art autre (1952)."
Tachisme was a reaction to Cubism and is characterized by spontaneous brushwork, drips and blobs of paint straight from the tube, and sometimes scribbling reminiscent of calligraphy.
Tachisme is closely related to Informalism or Art Informel, which, in its 1950s French art-critical context, referred not so much to a sense of "informal art" as "a lack or absence of form itself"–non-formal or un-form-ulated–and not a simple reduction of formality or formalness. Art Informel was more about the absence of premeditated structure, conception or approach (sans cérémonie) than a mere casual, loosened or relaxed art procedure.Visual art of the United States
Visual art of the United States or American art is visual art made in the United States or by U.S. artists. Before colonization there were many flourishing traditions of Native American art, and where the Spanish colonized Spanish Colonial architecture and the accompanying styles in other media were quickly in place. Early colonial art on the East Coast initially relied on artists from Europe, with John White (1540-c. 1593) the earliest example. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, artists primarily painted portraits, and some landscapes in a style based mainly on English painting. Furniture-makers imitating English styles and similar craftsmen were also established in the major cities, but in the English colonies, locally made pottery remained resolutely utilitarian until the 19th century, with fancy products imported.
But in the later 18th century two U.S. artists, Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley, became the most successful painters in London of history painting, then regarded as the highest form of art, giving the first sign of an emerging force in Western art. American artists who remained at home became increasingly skilled, although there was little awareness of them in Europe. In the early 19th century the infrastructure to train artists began to be established, and from 1820 the Hudson River School began to produce Romantic landscape painting that was original and matched the huge scale of U.S. landscapes. The American Revolution produced a demand for patriotic art, especially history painting, while other artists recorded the frontier country. A parallel development taking shape in rural U.S. was the American craft movement, which began as a reaction to the industrial revolution.
After 1850 Academic art in the European style flourished, and as richer Americans became very wealthy, the flow of European art, new and old, to the US began; this has continued ever since. Museums began to be opened to display much of this. Developments in modern art in Europe came to the U.S. from exhibitions in New York City such as the Armory Show in 1913. After World War II, New York replaced Paris as the center of the art world. Since then many U.S. movements have shaped Modern and Postmodern art. Art in the United States today covers a huge range of styles.
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