Abstract Expressionism. (Classroom Use)

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* Following the poverty of the Great Depression and the horrors of World War II, forward-looking artists no longer felt that the earlier art movements of the 20th century fit the times. They wanted to flee themselves from subject matter, and also believed that they should follow their feelings while they worked. These ideas resulted in "Abstract Expressionism," which enabled artists to reach down deeply into themselves for artistic meaning.

* Abstract Expressionism is a mixture of opposite kinds of artistic thinking--or "isms." One part consists of abstract ideas developed 50 years earlier by the artists who created Cubism. The other part of the mixture is from Expressionism, where artistic ideas focused on emotional feelings rather than on careful preparation. These two unlikely sets of artistic ideas came together to create a new and original art movement.

* Abstract Expressionists concentrated on the actions involved in creating artworks rather than trying to produce images that people could recognize. As a result, they welcomed successful accidents and chance events. They often thought of themselves as working blindfold. As a result, another name for this art movement is "Action Painting."

* Abstract Expressionism was very unusual and therefore difficult for most people to understand. For this reason, the opinions of several New York art critics were very influential in making the importance of these artists known through their writings in newspapers and magazines, as well as through their lectures.

While many people might think the ideas guiding this movement were new and strange, in fact that wasn't true. Traditional Chinese painters, for example, were less interested in being realistic than in focusing attention on their feelings while painting rapidly. Abstract Expressionists also borrowed ideas from other modern art "isms" such as Dadaism and Surrealism.

* New York became the center of Abstract Expressionist art after World War II. This was partly because large numbers of European artists had come to live there as refugees. The city also became the center for young Americans returning from military service who were anxious to continue with their artistic careers.

The artists who established Abstract Expressionism were Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Adolf Gottlieb, Clyfford Still and Franz Kline. Many other painters were also active and students may want to find out for themselves who they were.

* It would be a mistake to believe Abstract Expressionist paintings all looked alike. Each artist had a very distinctive style. One of those whose work was extremely different from Pollock's was Mark Rothko. Yet, some critics believed Rothko to be another of the most original of this group of artists.

Rothko's paintings were large and were composed of simple, rough-looking rectangles with blurry edges. They were painted with thin paint--almost like a dye--in just a few colors that make them look ghostly. Because the paint is very thin, viewers can easily see the weaving of the canvas.

* While most people think of Abstract Expressionist artists as painters, several very fine sculptors also worked in this movement. Three of them were David Smith, Theodore Roszak and Seymour Lipton. All three of them worked in metal, which means that their work could not be produced as fast as paintings. However, all of their work is every bit as abstract as that of the painters and printmakers.


* In order for students to develop a better understanding of Abstract Expressionism, they need to become familiar with as many examples as possible. …