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Movements, Styles, and Tendencies Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism Collage

Started: 1943

Ended: Late 1965

"It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academic painting. However, there is no such thing as good painting about nothing."

Mark Rothko Signature

Summary

"Abstract Expressionism" was never an ideal label for the movement, which developed in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. It was somehow meant to encompass not only the work of painters who filled their canvases with fields of color and abstract forms, but also those who attacked their canvases with a vigorous gestural expressionism. Still Abstract Expressionism has become the most accepted term for a group of artists who held much in common. All were committed to art as expressions of the self, born out of profound emotion and universal themes, and most were shaped by the legacy of Surrealism, a movement that they translated into a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma. In their success, these New York painters robbed Paris of its mantle as leader of modern art, and set the stage for America's dominance of the international art world.

Key Ideas

Political instability in Europe in the 1930s brought several leading Surrealists to New York, and many of the Abstract Expressionists were profoundly influenced by Surrealism's focus on mining the unconscious. It encouraged their interest in myth and archetypal symbols and it shaped their understanding of painting itself as a struggle between self-expression and the chaos of the subconscious.
Most of the artists associated with Abstract Expressionism matured in the 1930s. They were influenced by the era's leftist politics, and came to value an art grounded in personal experience. Few would maintain their earlier radical political views, but many continued to adopt the posture of outspoken avant-gardists.
Having matured as artists at a time when America suffered economically and felt culturally isolated and provincial, the Abstract Expressionists were later welcomed as the first authentically American avant-garde. Their art was championed for being emphatically American in spirit - monumental in scale, romantic in mood, and expressive of a rugged individual freedom.
Although the movement has been largely depicted throughout historical documentation as one belonging to the paint-splattered, heroic male artist, there were several important female Abstract Expressionists that arose out of New York and San Francisco during the 1940s and '50s who now receive credit as elemental members of the canon.
Jackson Pollock's <i>Convergence</i> (1952) was pictured on the 2010 US Postage stamp

In 1943 the noted art collector and gallerist Peggy Guggenheim commissioned Jackson Pollock to paint a mural for her apartment vestibule. Though Mural (1943) was the first commission and large scale work for the then unknown artist, he procrastinated for months, supposedly completing it in all night session just before Guggenheim's deadline. The painting launched his career as the leading artist of the then emerging Abstract Expressionism, and the story of its inception became part of his legend and myth.

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