Abstract Expressionism – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Theory Glossary

I. What is Abstract Expressionism?

Abstract Expressionism is a post-World War II art movement that emerged in the United States in the 1940s. It is characterized by its emphasis on spontaneous, gestural expression and the exploration of the subconscious mind.

It is often considered the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York City at the center of the Western art world.

Abstract Expressionism is known for its rejection of traditional artistic conventions and its focus on the act of painting itself as a means of self-expression.

II. Origins of Abstract Expressionism

The origins of Abstract Expressionism can be traced back to the 1930s and 1940s, a time of great social and political upheaval in the United States.

Many artists were seeking new ways to express the complexities of the human experience in the aftermath of World War II.

The movement was heavily influenced by European avant-garde movements such as Surrealism and Cubism, as well as by the work of American artists like Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning.

III. Key Characteristics of Abstract Expressionism

Some key characteristics of Abstract Expressionism include the use of bold, gestural brushstrokes, the rejection of traditional perspective and representation, and the emphasis on the artist’s emotional and psychological state.

The movement is also known for its large-scale canvases, which allowed artists to physically engage with their work in a way that was unprecedented in the history of art.

Abstract Expressionist artists often worked spontaneously, allowing their subconscious mind to guide their creative process.

IV. Major Artists of Abstract Expressionism

Some of the major artists associated with Abstract Expressionism include Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Helen Frankenthaler.

Jackson Pollock, in particular, is known for his innovative “drip painting” technique, in which he would pour and splatter paint onto canvases laid out on the floor.

Mark Rothko is known for his large, color-field paintings that evoke a sense of transcendence and contemplation.

V. Impact and Legacy of Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism had a profound impact on the art world and continues to influence artists to this day.

The movement helped to establish New York City as a major center for contemporary art and paved the way for future artistic developments such as Pop Art and Minimalism.

Abstract Expressionism also challenged traditional notions of what art could be and expanded the possibilities of artistic expression.

VI. Criticisms of Abstract Expressionism

Despite its influence and popularity, Abstract Expressionism has not been without its critics.

Some have argued that the movement was overly focused on the individual artist at the expense of broader social and political concerns.

Others have criticized Abstract Expressionism for its perceived elitism and its tendency to prioritize emotion and gesture over technical skill.