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Reference Library: Abstract expressionism

Abstract expressionism

'Abstract expressionism' was an American post-World War II art movement. It was the first specifically American movement to achieve worldwide influence and also the one that put New York City at the center of the art world, a role formerly filled by Paris. The term "Abstract expressionism" was first applied to American art in 1946 by the critic Robert Coates.


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 Max Ernst. Another important early manifestation of what came to be abstract expressionism is the work of American Northwest artist Mark Tobey,he was especially his "white writing" canvases, which, though generally not large in scale, anticipate the "all over" look of Pollock's drip paintings.
The movement gets its name because it is seen as combining the emotional intensity and self-expression 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, rather nihilistic. In practice, the term is applied to any number of artists working 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 (which are figurative paintings) and to the serenely shimmering blocks of colour in Mark Rothko's work (which is not what would usually be called expressionist and which Rothko denied was abstract), yet all three are classified as abstract expressionists.
Nevertheless, abstract expressionist paintings share certain characteristics, including the use of large canvases, an emphasis on the canvas's inherent flatness, and 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, for example). As the first truly original school of painting in America, abstract expressionism demonstrated the vitality and creativity of the country in the post-war years, as well as its ability (or need) to develop an aesthetic sense that was not constrained by the European standards of beauty.


The style attracted the attention, in the early 1950s, of the CIA, who saw it as a means of promoting the USA 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, [ ] also titled Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War, details how the CIA fincanced and organized the promotion of American abstract expressionists via the Congress for Cultural Freedom from 1950–67. Other books on the subject include Art in the Cold War by Christine Lindey and Pollock and After edited by Francis Frascina.


Canadian artist, Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002), helped introduce abstract impressionism to Paris in the 1950s.
By the 1960s, the movement's initial impact had been assimilated, yet its methods and proponents remained highly influential in art, affecting profoundly the work of many artists who followed. Movements which were direct responses to, and rebellions against, abstract expressionism began with Pop artists, notably Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenberg 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. Minimalism was exemplified by artists such as Donald Judd, Robert Mangold and Carl Andre. However, many painters, such as Fuller Potter and Jane Frank (a pupil of Hans Hofmann) continued to work in the abstract expressionist style for many years, extending and expanding its visual and philosophical implications.

List of abstract expressionists

The major artists are:
*Willem de Kooning
*Christel Arnold
*Helen Frankenthaler
*Arshile Gorky
*Don van Vliet
*Adolph Gottlieb
*Philip Guston
*Grace Hartigan
*Hans Hofmann
*Franz Kline
*Lee Krasner
*Robert Motherwell
*Barnett Newman
*Jackson Pollock
*Fuller Potter
*Jean-Paul Riopelle
*Mark Rothko
*Clyfford Still
*Robert Munoz
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Abstract expressionism".