Abstract Expressionism

analytical Essay
1102 words
1102 words

abstract expressionism

It was a full 170 years after Americans had their political revolution that they won an aesthetic revolution. American art to get rid of its inhibiting mechanisms- provincialism, over-dependence on European sources, and an indifferent public- and liberate itself into a quality and expressive force equal to, or exceeding that of art produced anywhere within the period. Few would argue that the painting and sculpture that emerged from the so-called New York School in the mid 1940s was the foremost artistic phenomenon of its time and was labeled as the Abstract Expressionist movement. Abstract expressionism was a reaction to social realism, surrealism, and primitive art in the 1940s; this is a turning point in American art history because it caused the rest of the art world to recognize New York as the new center of innovation.

The movement synthesized three other previous art forms. Social Realists "socially grounded" activist art of the 1930s responded to the disaster of the economy in America and the rise of fascism abroad by working in socially conscience styles. "This art form was contaminated by the cliches of the Stalinist popular front" (American Visions p. 469). Abstract expressionists responded to these art forms by deriving their new style from personal experience and by embodying this in contemporary forms, instead of getting their ideas from politics. The influence of Surrealism in The Abstract Expressionist Movement was its stress on the power of the unconscience as the most fertile ground of imagery. The expressionists valued the Surrealist style because it revealed the action of the dreaming mind and valued the accidental and the involuntary: "It welcomed the image that rose unbidden from a chaos of marks" (Modern Art 3rd Ed, p. 265). It also valued the American surrealists' sense of mission. Their belief that art and life was inseparable heartened American artists who felt marginal, ignored by other Americans and felt provincial with respect to Paris. The Abstract Expressionists also used "primitive" art as a way of cultural escape. They looked at tribal artifacts in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and believed it was disclosing one of the main buried roots of modernism. Cave paintings especially influenced many Abstract expressionists such as Pollock and Rothko. Aspects of cave...

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... him to literally be in the painting, to move about within it and thus give equal emphasis to all parts.

Although anticipated in Impressionism, this- the so-called "holistic" composition- was something new in modern art.

The emergence of the Abstract Expressionist in America had a profound effect on the rest of the art world because it relocated the center of the art world from Paris to New York. Many factors caused America to be the new center of Creativity. Political and economical causes such as the Great Depression and world war II, as well as former artistic genres such as Surrealism, Social Realism, and primitive American art influenced the Abstract Expressionist new style.


1. Hunter, Sam and Jacobs, John. Modern Art, 3rd Edition. The Vendome Press, New York, 1992.

2. Hughes, Robert. American Visions. Alfred A. knopf, Inc., New York, 1997.

3. Mitchel, Corrine. The Life of Polock. Phaidon Press Limited, London, 1996.

4. Boston, Marsha. Art History and Studio Art Instructor, La Jolla Country Day School.

5. Romani, Frank. Art Historian, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


In this essay, the author

  • Explains that abstract expressionism was a reaction to social realism, surrealism, and primitive art in the 1940s.
  • Analyzes how the abstract expressionist movement synthesized three previous art forms: social realists, surrealism, and cave paintings.
  • Explains that the abstract expressionist movement was influential because it was the first time that american artists were doing something new and different from europe.
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